Dissolved Village District; What's next?

by Scott
(Campton, NH 03223)

Reviewed: May 31, 2024

Visitor Question: Our Village District, located in Campton,NH, was recently dissolved by the county. There was no longer any interest by enough residents to legally operate the district, so the court stepped in. We are an old mill town village consisting of 22 residential homes and several businesses. Our Village also has a great historical significance in the area. We have a community well and wastewater disposal along with the infrastructure and roads that need to be operated, maintained and managed. The town (office) is very reluctant to take operation of the village. We are being left on our own. Any suggestions for alternatives to a HOA? Should we petition the Town to assume responsibility?

Editors' Reply:

In New Hampshire, what is called a village district might be called simply a special district, water district, fire district, community improvement district, or any number of other names in other states or other nations.

A village district is a limited purpose government with the same authority and powers as towns when it comes to the purposes for which this particular village district was created.

A village district can impose taxes or user fees in much the same way as a general purpose government (a city, town, county, state, or village is a general purpose government.)

Similarly to analogous districts in other states, the village district may be organized to provide water, street lighting, roads, wastewater (sewage) treatment, sidewalks, and other such infrastructure.

In New Hampshire RSA 52 is where in the state law you would find the rules for a village district. A village district is supposed to be governed by a board of commissioners.

We suppose that in your case, the tax or user base was insufficient to support the water and wastewater services, both of which are expensive services to maintain.

If the town where you are located is reluctant to pick up their responsibility, your choices are pretty limited.

We say it is the town's responsibility because if they serve as your general purpose government, they should be figuring out how to provide you with water and wastewater treatment.

If they can't afford it, or just plain don't want to afford it, for any variety of political reasons, you have two choices really:

(1) Form yourselves into a homeowners association, as you suggest, if that is even an option in New Hampshire.

Most often a homeowners association (HOA) is formed at the time a development is constructed or a subdivision is sold.

However, most states have provisions for conversions of apartments or large single-family residences into condominium associations, for instance. We suspect you can form an HOA after the fact--in your case, since you are an historic settlement--far after the fact.

Occasionally we've heard of problems when people try to incorporate businesses into an HOA that is not original to the development also.

So the bottom line is that if you want to pursue this option, you will need a real estate attorney who understands state law in this regard in detail and who has experience with these slightly irregular HOA formations.

2) Investigate whether it is possible for each residence and business to provide its own water and wastewater treatment. This often won't work if buildings are close together.

For the uninitiated, water provision individually would be from wells, if your hydrology would support such a thing. Your wastewater treatment could involve separate septic systems (usually at least three to five acres per residence is required for adequate dispersal of the wastewater, depending on soil types and other geology and topography considerations).

For wastewater, you also could check on whether there is a newer technology of what is called package treatment plants that would work for you at a reasonable cost.

We think this is an extreme long shot for you, based on what you said.

3. Try to arrive at a political solution. Form a neighborhood association and just keep going to town meetings and complaining about this until you get justice.

Also we would have to advise that this probably is a weak option, although it's worth thinking about. Ask yourself why the town really is opposed to helping you out, and then whether you can imagine some allies outside of your village district, but within your town, who would help you fight your case.

This question should serve as a caution to someone who is considering buying property that is served by a small special purpose district. It could be an area with great character, but if your water isn't clean and your wastewater can't be processed, what do you have really?

We hate giving pessimistic answers, but we think those are the choices.

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