Towns' pursuit of Mass. flood money continues

CONCORD — Once again the Legislature has renewed the effort to compel Massachusetts to pay its share of compensation to 18 cities and towns in New Hampshire for land taken for flood control projects 60 years ago while in the meantime reimbursing the municipalities for a share of the foregone funding they are owed.
In 1953, the state took possession of 18,473 acres and acquired easements on some 40,000 acres from 18 cities and towns along the Merrimack and Connecticut rivers where high water can be held to mitigate flooding downstream. The Merrimack River Valley Flood Control Compact and Connecticut River Valley Flood Control Compact, which were approved by Congress, stipulated that Massachusetts would contribute 70 percent and New Hampshire 30percent to reimbursing the municipalities annually for the foregone property tax revenue on the sequestered land.
Three of the 18 municipalities — Franklin, Webster and Salisbury are in Senate District 7 represented by Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia) while four — Bristol, New Hampton, Sanbornton, and Hill — are in Senate District 2 represented by Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith).
In July, 2006, not long after the "Mother's Day Flood," then Governor John Lynch wrote to his counterpart on Beacon Hill, former governor Mitt Romney, threatening legal action if Massachusetts did not pay the $3.2 million he claimed its owed the communities. He charged that Massachusetts made no payment in 1994, only partial payments from 1995 to 2002 and has paid nothing at all none at all since 2003. Since then the arrearages have mounted to $4.5 million according to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA).
Payments are based on the current tax value of the foregone acreage. Until 2011 New Hampshire paid the municipalities the money owed them by Massachusetts in anticipation of ultimately being reimbursed. But, in 2011 the state paid only its 30 percent share and in 2012 made no payment at all.
This year two bills have been introduced to address the issue. House Bill 581, sponsored by Representative Mario Ratzki (D-Andover) simply urges the Attorney General expedite the pursuit and recovery of monies owed to the state by Massacusetts. The other, Senate Bill 150, sponsored by Senator Andy Sanborn (R-Bedford) , would appropriate $800,000 in each year of the upcoming biennium to reimburse cities and towns for arrearages accrued in fiscal years 2011 and 2012.
In Senate District 7 for these two years Franklin, which lost 1,284 acres, is owed $37,741, Salisbury, which lost 2,491 acres, $85,567 and Webster, which lost 1,091 acres, $27,463. In Senate District 2, Bristol, which lost 193 acres, is owed $11,406, Hill, which lost 820 acres, $40,063, New Hampton, which lost 552 acres, $23,660 and Sanbornton, which lost 782 acres, $38,967.
Forrester, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, said that the Senate has tabled SB-150 in anticipation of seeking to include an appropriation for the municipalities in the Senate version of the 2013-2014 state budget. She said that the two states "are pointing fingers at each other" and expected that the impasse would only be resolved after protracted negotiation or litigation.
"I am going to fight to get the funds for the communities I represent," Hosmer, a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said yesterday, cautioning that there are many significant demands on relatively scarce funds.