Town Council members will soon be faced with some tough decisions regarding how to pay for three completed sewer projects that threaten to leave local residents and business owners with bills nearly twice what they expected.
But residents aren’t going to just sit back and wait to be stuck with the added costs.
A half dozen families from along West Street and Williamsburg Drive appeared before the during its meeting Monday night to request that council members consider an option other than billing twice the estimated cost for Sewer Assessment 34, a project that involved installing sewers to about 72 businesses and homes in three sections of town.
“Certainly all of you would be appalled if I quoted you a service price and then doubled it, especially in this economy,” said Helen Henne, a resident whose mother’s property is one of those that could be adversely affected. “The town was dragging its feet on the project. Why should we be penalized for it?”
Delays in billing, excess costs for construction and other problems surrounding Sewer Assessment 34 have drawn attention in recent weeks during recent meetings of the council’s sewer sub-committee. The projects, which were finished in three phases, were completed in 2009 and involved the installation and connection to homes along West Street, Williamsburg Drive, Annelise Avenue, Skyline Drive, Cedar Drive and Reusnner Road.
When the council first approved the projects between 2004 and 2007, anticipated costs for residents were estimated at $60 to $70 per square foot of lineage on their property, with a one-time lateral fee of $750. But now residents are looking at much higher bills.
The project's assessments were first brought to the council for consideration in November 2011 by former Town Engineer Anthony Tranquillo, who was responsible for oversight, but Town Manager Garry Brumback asked council members to refer the assessments back to the sewer committee. The council voted unanimously to do so.
John Dobbins, chairman of the sewer sub-committee, said that after the projects were completed and fees were reassessed, the numbers were nearly twice what residents had been told. Property owners along West Street, which mostly has commercial property, are looking at fees of $131.23 per square foot and residents along Williamsburg Drive are facing charges of $126.15 per square foot.
Those in the third section of the project, which included Annelise Avenue and surrounding roads, are facing bills of $97.62 per square foot.
In addition, the lateral assessment fee doubled from $750 to $1,500 for a project that Williamsburg Drive resident and local developer Anthony Denorfia said Monday night should have been completed in a third of the time and at half the cost – if not even less.
“I don’t mind paying money to the town, we all should pay taxes, but nobody was watching this,” Denorfia said. “If the town was paying 240 (dollars) per foot to have a sewer going in, that’s insane. I’ve never paid that and never will. These costs are just totally out of line… From the beginning, at least with our section, this was totally mishandled.”
Denorfia, who has helped build numerous neighborhoods in the community, said the installation of gravity sewers should have cost between $40,000 and $50,000 in the Williamsburg Drive area, a cost that if split eight ways would have led to between $50 and $60 per square foot for residents.
The town is also seeking reimbursement for 60 hours of work by the engineering department in putting together blue prints for the Williamsburg Drive area, Denorfia said. He said Stephen Giudice, owner of Harry E. Cole & Sons, put the blueprints together at his request, however.
“When I went through the employee costs, a town draftsman put in for 60 hours to draft a plan. I gave a draft of it to him,” Denorfia said.
Beth Smedick, another Williamsburg Drive resident at Monday’s meeting, said that the costs also far exceed the work that has been done. When the project was initiated, Smedick said she was told that it would take a month to complete. Williamsburg Drive has since been repaved three times and continues to have problems, she said.
“I think the burden of a mistake like this need be directed back at (the engineering) department and addressed in that way, not put on the backs of the residents,” Smedick said.
Although the assessments suggest billing residents at nearly twice the rate suggested when the projects began, Council Chairman Edward Pocock III said the council must take action and determine how to best address the issue, but only after holding a public hearing. The hearing was approved by the council Monday and will take place at the next meeting, which is scheduled for Feb. 14.
A lot could change after the council has a chance to review all the information in detail, he said. Bills have not been sent to residents, council members confirmed.
“To get a hearing on the table, we need to approve the hearing with the numbers that have been given to us,” Pocock said. “That means that just because those numbers were what was suggested does not mean we are going to approve it as is.”