For the second year in a row, Milton residents have voted against borrowing money to upgrade to the town's water system.
In a low turnout April 13, Miltonians disapproved by a slim margin of 151-141.
Town officials asked residents' permission to borrow up to $1.725 million to drill a new well, lay a new main and perform other upgrades to the town's aging system.
Just weeks before the vote, Vice Mayor John Booros brought to light the fact that the state would not offer principal forgiveness to the town this year, which could have amounted to about $500,000. The state's Office of Drinking Water distributed all of the money it had available for principal forgiveness to Selbyville after a contaminant was found in town water.
Town council briefly reconsidered moving forward with the referendum, but ultimately voted 5-1 April 10 to hold the referendum as planned.
Booros said he had to speak up about the principal forgiveness, which was never guaranteed by the state, because he felt it was an important factor for voters to consider.
The town may reapply for a loan in August. State officials have indicated they expect to offer about 30 percent forgiveness next fiscal year.
Newly elected Mayor Marion Jones took the defeat of the referendum in stride.
"This is certainly not the end of the work Milton will do on their water system improvements," she said.
The town will continue to work on upgrades and review a mapping project previously suggested by consulting engineers to identify weaknesses in the present system, she said.
"Capacity has been an important issue in this referendum, and Milton is still facing the problem coming into our peak water-use season, Jones said. "This is a good time to consider water conservation measures and concentrate on where and how to dig another well with our own water funds."
Booros said by August, officials should have enough time to learn how effective the town's efforts have been to improve the system.
"Now that we've replaced the well heads, replaced the pumps, replaced the meters and all that other stuff, let's see what we're really missing," he said.
In the meantime, he agreed with Jones that the town should consider implementing water conservation measures.
In March 2012, residents voted 260-124 in opposition of borrowing $3.45 million to build a new water tower and complete other necessary work to the water system. A big factor in that vote was the revelation that the town could not account for 11 million gallons of water each quarter.
The town responded to the failed vote by testing the town's pipes for leaks, replacing old meters that may have been out of sync and added meters to buildings that are not charged for water use. It was also discovered that some water that was pumped was falling back into the wells, resulting in it being counted twice. New valves were installed to prevent that from occurring.
The full impact of the town's efforts are not yet available, but should be evident after further monitoring.