By John Toole
---- — WINDHAM — A request to fund a $35,000 water study is expected before voters at Town Meeting.
The Economic Development Committee is pushing for the study.
Chairman Ralph Valentine told selectmen a public water system could improve fire protection, lower insurance rates and boost economic development.
Commercial development in turn could help keep down residential property taxes, Valentine told selectmen.
The study wouldn’t commit the town to developing a public water system.
“We want to understand our future water needs,” Valentine told selectmen.
A majority of selectmen supported the study, but rejected the idea of funding it through the budget.
They said voters should decide through a separate warrant article whether to pursue the study.
“I think it’s vital to the town,” selectmen’s Chairman Phil LoChiatto said.
But LoChiatto said the issue deserves public discussion as a warrant article.
“It’s pretty clear where the board is,” he told Valentine.
Selectman Al Letizio Jr. said lack of a public water system is the main reason the town so little commercial development. Commercial property accounts for less than 10 percent of the tax base.
Selectman Roger Hohenberger said a public water system is a great idea for economic development but questioned whether voters would be willing to pursue the study.
“I don’t think you can sell it to the public,” he said.
But Valentine said economic development officials are gaining support from the fire chief and other town boards.
“We’re gaining traction with support for this request,” Valentine said.
Unless selectmen change their minds, a warrant article would be put before voters at Town Meeting in March.
LoChiatto said it’s fate would rest on the success of an educational campaign led by economic development officials.
Community Development director Laura Scott said the study would be important for Windham’s future.
“Without the study, there is no way the town could have an informed discussion about the next steps,” Scott said.
“Water infrastructure is beneficial for future development in order to provide water of sufficient quantity and quality for commercial development and public safety needs,” she said.
“This would also protect our current groundwater resources since we would be bringing water into the community as opposed to using current aquifer resources,” Scott said.