News   |  A Debt That’s Long Overdue

A Debt That’s Long Overdue

The following Op-Ed, published in the Thursday, May 17th edition of the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, highlights some important legislation Senator Sanborn has been working on to ensure New Hampshire towns are provided the funds they are contractually entitled to.

On Tuesday, we commented on the extent to which budget cuts in New Hampshire have forced expenses to be accommodated to one degree or another by the cities and towns in the state, in a process known as “downshifting.”  Downshifting the responsibilities of New Hampshire government to the state’s municipalities is one thing, but when the state of Massachusetts ends up downshifiting its obligations to New Hampshire towns, that’s downright ridiculous.

Yet that is what’s been happening for the past two years, as the Bay State reneged on payments it agreed to make in lieu of taxes for property taken in the 1950s for flood mitigation projects.  As we reported on May 2, a number of towns in New Hampshire within the Merrimack River and Contoocook River drainage areas gave up land in the early 1950s, when a flood control plan was put into effect, mostly to the benefit of our neighbor to the south.

Massachusetts agreed to compensate New Hampshire every year under an interstate compact, and the state was supposed to distribute the money to each town, based on the amount of land taken.  Seventy percent of the amount came from Masschusetts and the rest from New Hampshire, which collected the Massachusetts share and sent both that money and the state’s portion to the towns.

But in recent years, Massachusetts stopped paying.  New Hampshire continued to send the full amount back to local towns until this year, when the state stopped covering the Massachusetts share.  Now there is legislation pending in Concord (SB326), expected to pass this week, that requires the state to sue Massachusetts for its share, and to ensure that the towns get what they are owed from both Concord and Boston.

Under HB 325, which was unanimously supported by the House Ways and Means Committee, the communities would be reimbursed the 2011 funds as part of the 2014 state budget and the 2012 funds in the 2015 budget.  The law, sponsored by State Senator Andy Sanborn, would also repeal language included in the current state budget, that allows New Hampshire to only cover its 30 percent.

Sanborn of Henniker, told the Concord Monitor he’s confident the measure will stand.  “Today you’ve got 18 communities totaling 56 senators and House representatives who are now hyper-sensitive to this issue,” he said.  “I don’t think it will be swept under the rug again.”

It should have never been swept under the rug in the first place.  Fortunately, actions have been taken to correct the situation after only a brief period of non0payment.  While Massachusetts failed to pay its part of the Merrimack River Vally Flood Control Compact for several years, New Hampshire covered the entire bill until last year.  In 2011 the affected communities saw only 20 percent, and this year saw nothing, with losses ranging from $3,000 to $200,000 per town.

Peterborough, which lost about 700 acres in West Peterborough when MacDowell Reservoir was built, is owed about $23,000 per year.  Hancock gave up 350 acres along the Contoocook River and is owed $6,000 a year.

No one has been able to offer a reasonable explanation as to how Massachusetts could walk away from such a clear-cut contractual obligation, other than a deep recession that has state governments all over the nation looking for ways to cut corners, often at the expense of local taxpayers.

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