Committee Says Best Finance Plan For Sewers: Everyone Pays
By: Laura M. Reckford
Spreading the cost over the widest possible base is one way members of a special subcommittee on sewering suggest the town pay for a project that over decades is expected to cost about $675 million, the largest single capital project in the town’s history.
The sewering is needed to clean up nitrogen in the town’s estuaries and it is also needed to protect drinking water in areas where Title V septic systems cannot be installed or are failing.
The subcommittee of Barnstable’s Comprehensive Financial Advisory Committee is made up of Robert J. Ciolek, Laura T. Cronin and Ralph M. Krau. The three were tasked by Barnstable Town Council President Frederick Chirigotis with studying the issue of how to pay for sewer projects, after residents of the Stewart’s Creek neighborhood in Hyannis balked at the prospect of paying more than $20,000 in betterments for a sewer extension project in their area.
The subcommittee presented its 50 plus page report to the town council this week in order to give council members time to review it before a discussion that had been scheduled for the March 4 town council meeting. But Mr. Chirigotis has decided to schedule a special town council meeting to discuss the subcommittee’s report. That meeting will be held on Thursday, March 11 with a tentative time of 7 PM. Mr. Chirigotis said he wanted plenty of time for councilors to question the committee without having to cut the discussion short at a regular town council meeting.
Mr. Chirigotis said that if one of the routes the council takes is a Proposition 2 1/2 override, that would have to appear on the ballot at the November election later this year. That is because the Stewart’s Creek residents are anxious to resolve the funding for that project, since construction is beginning this spring.
But Mr. Chirigotis cautioned that “given the current financial situation of the town, the country and the world, there is probably not much appetite for an override.”
Mr. Ciolek said he did not think the subcommittee’s report would be “welcomed with open arms,” because sewering large sections of the town will be an expensive proposition no matter what.
One of the first conclusions the subcommittee came to, Mr. Ciolek said, is that the town needs to do a better job of educating the public about the project and the reason why it is necessary.
One surprise he found in his research, Mr. Ciolek said, is that while everyone focuses on betterments, they only pay for 54 percent of the total capital project. The remaining 46 percent is paid by ratepayers. “That percentage split is not what I expected when I started the project,” he said.
The two basic options the committee presents are a division of the costs. In option one, 50 percent of the costs are met by rates and charges, 25 percent by a Proposition 2 1/2 override or debt exclusion, and 25 percent by grant funding or a new excise tax. This option requires legislative assistance to levy the new tax.
In option two, there would be a capped betterment of $10,000 with a Proposition 2/1/2 override or debt exclusion funding the rest.
The committee spent months studying an issue that Mr. Ciolek has some familiarity with. He served as the executive director of the Boston Water and Sewer Commission for six years and served as chairman of the finance committee of the board of directors of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority for ten years. That body spent $4.2 billion to clean up Boston’s wastewater problems.
Mr. Ciolek has told the town council that his committee will “go on the road,” so to speak, to explain its report to neighborhood groups throughout the town.
“We more than understand there will be a vigorous debate that will follow the issuance of the report. We think that’s a good thing,” he said. The report is available to view or download on the town’s website at town.barnstable.ma.us.
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