The law is gone.

But the debt is not.

The Town of Haverhill owes back payments to the Woodsville Highway Department — more than $800,000, say precinct officials — under a statutory funding agreement, Senate Bill 75, which was repealed in June.

Haverhill withheld that money from 2019 through 2021 because it felt the statutory funding formula was unfair.

But in a partial summary judgment on Oct. 29, Grafton County Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein ruled that the town retroactively owned the precinct for the time SB 75 was in effect.

The town’s motion to reconsider was denied on Dec. 2.

Haverhill officials, who argue that Bornstein’s ruling does not specify damages, will seek clarification from the court before determining its next steps.

In a press release, Town Manager Brigitte Codling said, “The Town is disappointed that the Superior Court issued a decision regarding the Town’s interpretation of SB75 without clarifying the ambiguous language in the law; which is what started this disagreement in the first place.”

She continued that she disagreed with the premise of the precinct’s lawsuit.

“Woodsville Commissioners and the District Administrator have asserted that the Town should have raised additional money in 2020 and 2021 on Woodsville’s behalf. However, it is the Town’s understanding that Woodsville itself already raised from Woodsville residents, any shortfall they might claim. Therefore, it seems the Woodsville Commissioners and the District Administrator simply want a windfall from the Town taxpayers, not compensation for any ‘damages’,” she said.

Codling said the Town of Haverhill will request more information before deciding whether to pursue further legal actions.

“Although the Town would prefer to simply close this case, move forward, and begin fostering a positive relationship with the Woodsville District, the Town does not support any attempt by Woodsville Commissioners to transfer its past tax burden to the current Town residents at large. The Town is seeking a status conference to determine what, exactly, Woodsville is legally claiming and what the next steps for this case should be,” she said.

Woodsville precinct officials could not be reached for comment.

Codling said the superior court decision was unclear and did not call for restitution.

The town previously claimed it would owe $400,000 at most in a “worst-case scenario.”

“The Partial Summary Judgement was vague at best and unfortunately did not give any of us enough information to make a determination of what or how much might be paid by the Town to Woodsville; the fact that the judge denied our motion to reconsider does not change the fact that there were no damages claimed nor ruled upon,” Codling said.

The town’s funding of the Woodsville Highway Department had been state-mandated for about 30 years.

It became a divisive issue as Woodsville Highway was funded at five times the Haverhill Highway level.

The precinct said the state-mandated formula protected Woodsville taxpayers and addressed the higher cost of maintaining the precinct’s paved-and-curbed roads, but town officials called it a violation of home rule, and an unwanted state intrusion on a local budget matter.

In 2019 the town withheld funding and the precinct filed a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the legislature dissolved the statutory agreement in June, approving a bill submitted by Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, that requires Woodsville to fund its own enterprises without town assistance.

That legislation was recommended by the House Public Works and Highway Committee 18-3 and approved by the Senate, 20-3, and the House, 208-165.

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