Sewer project moves forward; funding not an issue

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OXFORD — Roughly one-fifth of the construction work on a $24 million state-of-the-art sewer system has been completed, according to estimates from town officials and engineers.

Town officials said the sewer project, which will link miles of sewer pipes along Route 26 to a treatment facility near the Welchville Dam, has roughly matched the pace of expenditures. To date, the town has issued in excess of $5 million for construction and supervisory services, according to accounting records. 

An estimated 90 percent of work in the first of six areas has been completed, with lines installed from Rabbit Valley Road near the Oxford Casino, north along Route 26 through the town’s Tax Increment Financing District up to King Street. 

Crews are working on a $2.87 million part of the project, building the plant’s foundation and a outflow pipe of sterilized wastewater into the Little Androscoggin River. Three pump stations along that route designed to collect and transfer wastewater from the facility up Pigeon Hill were installed earlier this summer and fall. 

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As reported by the Advertiser Democrat, construction on the building itself should begin mid-January and is estimated to be completed by next fall. Selectmen have yet to choose a company for that part of the project and engineers are believed to be reviewing a $8.9 million low bid after it came in higher than initially estimated. 

The sewer system is regarded as one part of the economic catalyst for business development expected to sprout in the wake of the Oxford Casino opening in 2012. Months later, Oxford voters authorized town officials to borrow more than $20 million for the project. 

Oxford started using an $8 million construction loan from Androscoggin Savings Bank in August. Once that money is used, the town will begin repaying the loan with funds from the federal government. In all, the project’s estimated cost is reflected in the amount it has received in loans and grants from the federal government — $23.7 million. 

Funds from its omnibus TIF account will repay the government loan and grant package as well as operational maintenance for the facility.

Currently, Oxford Casino is the only business paying into that account. Any increase in casino property taxes is sheltered in a separate account which now has nearly $330,000. 

Another source of revenue is from a tax on revenue from slot and table games. Since the fiscal year started July 1, the town has padded that account with $606,842.54, a figure which increases roughly $30,000 a week as checks from the state are sent to the town. 

The town has designated those funds to offset taxes. In September, it used $850,000 in revenue accrued in fiscal year 2014 to offset a 16 percent budget increase. 

Town Manager Michael Chammings said the town has prepared to repay its debt based upon conservative predictions of business growth in the next few years. Concerns that a new casino in southern Maine could impact the popularity at the Oxford Casino, cutting into revenue projections and future taxes from new businesses drawn to the region, prompted it to forecast its repayments upon trapped casino revenues alone.

Already, the town has sought reassurances from developers of a $15.4 million Hampton Inn across from the casino that the project is still moving forward. Developers are scheduled to meet with the Planning Board in mid-December to discuss the plan, Chammings said. 

ccrosby@sunjournal.com  

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