Two Trumbull commissions have tried to clear the air surrounding sewer construction in north Nichols.
Also known as Contract IV, the sewer work itself is about $26 million. Other, non-sewer-related costs such as road paving, are about $10 million.
North Nichols residents will pay 75 percent of the $26 million, the town 25 percent. The $10 million will be spread out on all town taxpayers, a move that raised transparency questions with critics like resident Cindy Katske.
"How is it okay that a board specifically charged with overseeing the installation of sewers can unilaterally decide to spend a large portion of funds authorized for sewer installation on non-sewer-related items without any approval or oversight by the Board of Finance and the Town Council?" she asked.
First Selectman Tim Herbst has answered that question before, citing bond Attorney Joseph Fasi's opinion that the initial approval of sewer work (before Herbst took office in 2009) allowed it.
But, according to Katske, "Just because bond counsel said it can be done does not mean that it should be done."
Finance Board Member Tom Tesoro said he felt like he was being handed a "fait accompli" because the work was already done. He also agreed the work needed to be done.
"[There is] no logical choice but to approve it," but citizens should be allowed to question it, he added.
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Included in the sewer costs is oversight for the engineering firm Tighe & Bond, which could reach $2.5 million.
"I'm not challenging that this work needs to be done. How can you spend $2.5 million without authorization by the Town Council or the Board of Finance?" Tesoro asked. "I'm not trying to be mean here" or criticize WPCA decisions, he said.
WPCA member Tim Hampford replied that Public Works Director John Marsilio presented a "sound" plan for the work. According to Marsilio, costs accrued as the project went on and obstacles were found north Nichols roads.
At best he could offer a "best guess" because of unknowns, Marsilio said.
Finance Chairwoman Elaine Hammers argued that the WPCA has not yet overspent its budget and that the current WPCA members inherited Contract IV. The first selectman appoints WPCA members and Herbst changed over the board after he was elected.
Board alternate Cindy Penkoff was "horrified" that Contract IV was approved after defects cropped up after Contract III in the Jog Hill Road area. The town is suing Mark IV, the construction company on the job, for $9 million in repairs.
Herbst said he did not anticipate such issues coming up again because the Town Charter now mandates a referendum for bonding $15 million or more.
Assessments on north Nichols property owners have reached $29,000. The figure is payable for 20 years.