To the Editor:
By Connecticut state statutes, Water Pollution Control Authorities may “acquire, construct and operate a sewerage system or systems.“ Apparently, the Trumbull WPCA also believes that it has the authority to spend $10M and unilaterally declare that it won’t pay, leaving the taxpayers to pick up the tab.
The Town Council authorized bonding up to $34M for the North Nichols sewer project at the request of the WPCA. It was repeatedly represented that the town would pay 25% and the WPCA would assess the properties being serviced to raise the rest. That has been the practice since the town began sewer development decades ago. The WPCA and their appointing authority, the First Selectman, gave no indication that some of the funds for this project would not be considered sewer charges and the WPCA would refuse to repay. In fact, prior to approving the hiring of Tighe & Bond for program oversight, the commissioners debated who should cover the cost. They voted to follow the position of Commissioner Hampford that T&B was a legitimate project cost and not to ask the town to cover it.
Incredibly, the WPCA has decided after the fact that Tighe & Bond, which was repeatedly represented as paying for itself through “value engineering” and higher quality work, is now the town’s responsibility at a cost of $2M+. Other costs that were excluded from assessments and thus transferred to the town ledger include paving, which has traditionally been a project expense, and sewer re-work for a total of $10M, or nearly $300 for every Trumbull resident. The final assessments were ratified at the WPCA’s December meeting without asking for approval from the Board of Finance or the Town Council.
How did the WPCA create this new “policy” that was used to determine the assessments? No one knows because there is no documented discussion, much less a vote, in the minutes required by statute and our charter. How could that be? Furthermore, does anyone really think that a commission of five Herbst appointees would shift $10M to the town budget without discussing it with the First Selectman? Where is the documentation of that meeting? Where’s the transparency? Despite transferring a large liability to the town ledger, the WPCA didn’t even let non-North Nichols residents speak at its public hearing.
I think many of us are sympathetic to the plight of North Nichols, but backroom dealings by the WPCA are not the right way to solve the problem. It’s time for Carl Massaro and the Town Council leadership to gather all of their political courage and say that they are the legislative body solely responsible for approving the town’s spending commitments. It’s time for Board of Finance Chair Elaine Hammers to speak out with her famous “wrong answer” reply to attempts to evade her board’s scrutiny. It’s also time for Charter Revision Commission members Bill Holden and Russ Friedson, who waxed so eloquently about transparency and empowering voters but disregarded a chance to make the WPCA an elected body, to declare that this is not the type of transparency and empowerment they had in mind. Perhaps if our leaders stood up for open government in this manner we could come up with solutions take into consideration the needs of all of Trumbull.
As a final note consider that the WPCA and First Selectman are currently involved in negotiations with Bridgeport for potential regionalization of sewer services. There has been complete silence on the town’s position and progress. If they can’t be counted on to determine assessments in an open, transparent manner, how can we depend on them to represent us in a negotiation that could cost Trumbull tens to even hundreds of millions of dollars as Bridgeport rebuilds its obsolete collection system?
P.S. I’d be even more open to kicking in some of my tax dollars to North Nichols if I could find a legal way to ensure that the WPCA never brings their increasingly expensive sewer projects to my neighborhood. Any ideas?