N.H., Mass. flood commission negotiates future payments
An interstate commission to monitor flood control payments between New Hampshire and Massachusetts has been meeting for the first time in more than a decade – and the neighboring states came to the table with a $300,000 difference in their estimates of money owed by the Bay State for 2012.
Under the terms of a 1950s-era flood control compact, the federal government built dams and reservoirs to protect the Merrimack River Valley from floods. To compensate for lost tax revenue, New Hampshire and Massachusetts pledged to make annual payments to the 18 Granite State communities that sacrificed property for the project.
New Hampshire would pay 30 percent of the bill, while Massachusetts would foot the remaining 70 percent.
The compact called for a six-person commission, composed of three representatives from each state, to monitor those payments. That commission had not met in years – and Massachusetts stopped paying its portion of the flood control money in the 1990s, racking up an estimated $4.5 million in debt to New Hampshire since 2000.
That debt is in the hands of the New Hampshire attorney general’s office, which is negotiating with its Massachusetts counterpart to collect that outstanding money. The commission has turned its attention to the future of the compact, trying to establish a formula for Massachusetts’s 2012 payment and beyond.
Bryan Pellerin, chairman of the Merrimack River Valley Flood Control Commission, said renewed meetings between his New Hampshire delegation and the commission members from Massachusetts have been “cordial and productive.”
“What the commission is trying to do right now is focus on the 2012 payment and using our meetings to establish a framework for going forward,” said Pellerin, who is from New Hampshire. “The framework had kind of collapsed over the past 10 or 15 years.”
New Hampshire estimated the money owed to the state by Massachusetts for 2012 was about $496,000. Massachusetts estimated that same payment should be about $196,000, Pellerin said.
Steve Hamilton, director of the property appraisal division at the state Department of Revenue Administration, said he tabulated New Hampshire’s estimate with information from all of the affected towns. He and Pellerin said that information is based fairly on a statute established with the original compact, while Pellerin said Massachusetts’s estimate is out of date.
Under the compact, the commission is to approve both states’ payments for the previous fiscal year each fall. Those payments are adjusted annually based on tax rates.
Massachusetts has requested more information on how Hamilton came up with his number, Pellerin said. The commission, which has met three times since July, will gather again when its Bay State members have reviewed that information.
“I think they’ve been very cooperative,” Pellerin said of his fellow commissioners. “Massachusetts has indicated from the beginning that they want to get this thing back on track, and that’s important to New Hampshire.”
But if the two delegations can’t agree on the formula for the 2012 payment and other payments going forward, that camaraderie could disintegrate.
“We’re not going to drag it out forever,” Pellerin said. “The compact does provide for arbitration in the event we can’t reach an agreement. If there is an impasse, that would be our next step.”
Pellerin’s work on the commission could directly affect not only his state, but also his neighborhood. He lives in Hopkinton, the town entitled to the largest annual payment under the compact.
“I’m doing it on behalf of my community,” Pellerin said. “I think it’s important not only to Hopkinton, but also to the other towns. The towns gave up a lot in order to provide this flood protection . . . and we’re entitled to be compensated in accordance with the compact.”
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)