2009-09-10 / Front Page

Council approves rate increase for water and sewer

By Phil Zahodiakin

During a special Sept. 8 meeting on town, water and sewer matters, the Town Council approved an increase in water and sewer rates, while deferring the controversial issue of distributing future increases among all island residents.

For now, connected residents using an average amount of water will see a 10 to 11 percent increase in their water and sewer bills – with ongoing debt service being the primary justification for both hikes.

Connected water users who draw large amounts of water will likely see their water and sewer bills jump 15 percent.

Council President Julio Di- Giando observed that the water rate increase “may seem like a lot, but we were plagued by chronic leaks, and now we have a better system that we have to pay for. This is nothing new.”

The improvements were confi rmed by Stephen Goslee, director of the Public Works Department, who added that leaks have decreased from “one a day to one a year.”

Nevertheless, the council in- tends to look for operational effi- ciencies that could help reduce the severity of future rate increases. Possibilities mentioned during the meeting included training public works employees in treatment facility operation, and hiring a contractor to run the water and sewage treatment plants.

“We need the fortitude to make decisions that will reduce operating costs,” said Council member William Kelly.

The council will also need fortitude to tackle recommendations for an island-wide distribution of the rate increases. Council member Robert Sutton acknowledged that there would be resistance to any such plan, adding, “But all of us benefit [from water and sewer system improvements], and we, as a community, will have to talk about sharing the burdens.”

That discussion will be part of the budget discussion, so the search for a compromise will have to start before February, DiGiando said.

The full council meeting opened with an announcement from Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, who said that the town “is projecting a $300,000 budget surplus” at the end of the current fiscal year.

Conversely, council members wrestled with various proposals to find an additional $100,000 for the purchase of a property targeted for affordable housing units.

There are significant pressures on the council to reach a rapid decision on the property at 79 North Main Rd. The property is available for $350,000 – $100,000 more than the town has amassed in its reserves for affordable housing development.

Although the heirs to the real estate have been patient with the council – which requested a delay in the previous foreclosure sale – the property has been scheduled for an Oct. 8 auction, which means that the town would have to find additional money for a purchase in less than a month. But the money could not be appropriated without public input, and the window of opportunity for a ballot question or a special financial meeting is closing fast.

Some council members remain wary of the property because of the possibility that there are Native American artifacts buried there – the very same issue that drove away developers from the former town office property at 44 Southwest Ave. Council member Michael White said he was “leaning towards taking a chance,” but added, “That site is in the middle of Indian grounds and I’m a little nervous about that.”

Council member Barbara Szepatowksi said, “There aren’t any Indian artifacts at the site that we know of. There aren’t any wetlands problems. And you couldn’t ask for anything more of a site for affordable housing. It’s on a bus line and there’s water and sewer. The two existing buildings could be rehabbed fairly quickly. The town is 50 units short [in the legally mandated inventory of affordable housing units], and we have to start somewhere.”

Ultimately, the council decided to proceed with a purchase-andsale agreement with the intent of asking voters to approve the expenditure of an additional $100,000 during a special financial meeting – while at the same time, researching the site some more. The special meeting will be held when the P&S agreement is ready for public scrutiny, which means that the meeting could be held as soon as next week.

Additional business put before the council included:

• Complaints from seasonal residents of the Ft. Getty campground, where alleged inattention from the Parks and Recreation Department has led to “deplorable” conditions. One resident asked the council “to decide if you still want a campground at Ft. Getty – or not – so that we can make life decisions.”

• An invitation to the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association to the next council meeting for the purpose of presenting in greater detail its recent appeal for a town donation in support of restoration efforts at the historic site.

• An agreement to re-visit during the next meeting the idea of a public sailing school at Ft. Getty, now that the pressure to partner with the FAST sailing school is off, according to DiGiando.

• Frustrations with the noise of the fire horn, along with remarks from a former Jamestown fire chief who argued that the fire horn is preferable to pagers because the horn is a foolproof way to alert volunteer firemen, regardless of where they are and what they are doing.

• Acceptance for the record of a letter arguing that the police department has failed to enforce a “state muffler ordinance” against motorcyclists, preventing residents with open windows from enjoying the sea air and restaurant patrons from holding conversations.

• Adoption of a resolution supporting the pending installation of utility pole antennas to enhance cell phone communications. The installation, which won’t cost the town any money, will be done by SBA Advanced Wireless Networks. The antennas are intended to improve reception on the north end of the island.

• A question of the relevance of a special gubernatorial task force empanelled to measure “fiscal stress” among Rhode Island towns. Sutton observed, “It’s pretty obvious that cities are feeling the most stress, but there isn’t anyone representing a city – Central Falls, Providence, Pawtucket – on this task force. So, what is the point?” Sutton added that he hoped the council doesn’t invest a lot of time in any future discussions on the findings of the task force.

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