Oct. 14, 2019



Ridgefield’s Republican Town Committee, and the campaign of Richard Moccia, continue to mischaracterize and spread falsehoods related to the sewer plant upgrade. To clarify questions around what is a complex municipal project, First Selectman Rudy Marconi has prepared the following. “It’s a long essay,” he said, “but I hope that those who are interested in the project will read it and get the facts.”

I live on Main Street, in middle of the sewer district, and my sewer fees are rising by $280 per unit. Am I happy about it? No, of course not.
But as a member of the Water Pollution Control Authority—and your first selectman—I understand why this is happening. Stay with me a minute and you will, too.

I will also clear up some of the misinformation being spread like manure by my political opponents this campaign season.
All sewer plants have a life expectancy, after which they must be upgraded. Naturally, you want your plant to last as long as possible, and we were able to wring about six or seven more years out of ours than we expected. That reduced our overall costs, and we should be glad for that.

The output of treatment plants is strictly regulated by the state. As we waited for the new regulations to come down, we had no idea exactly what kind of investment we would be required to make. As it turned out, they were stricter than ever, and this would require a significant new investment.

(My opponents would have you believe that somehow the WPCA was not prepared for this. In fact, the state of the treatment plant was a constant topic of conversation and planning, and in fact, reserves were set aside, at the recommended rate.)

The most economical approach was to close the Route 7 treatment plant and pipe effluent to a rebuilt main plant on South Street. We put the project out to bid and the best alternative was estimated cost the town $48 million.

This is a lot of money. But keep in mind that if we do not upgrade the plant to the new standards, we risk very heavy fines. So, we have no choice. Which raises the next question: How do we pay for it?

First off, we applied to the state for as much grant funding as possible, and we were awarded $11.5 million dollars. (My opponent has implied this funding is not forthcoming, but that’s nonsense. The grant was approved on June 26th. All that remains are the procedural steps.)

This means that roughly $36.5 million was left to fund. The WPCA felt that, since all townspeople benefit from having a vibrant downtown and community facilities, part of the cost should be shared among all Ridgefield taxpayers—as was done in 1990. And so it was recommended that $8 million be bonded by the town.

(And here my opponents are spreading two falsehoods. First, this was not “forced” on the town. It was subject to public debate. There was a referendum and voters passed it by a 2-1 margin. And the $8 million will be bonded by the town, so the cost is spread among all taxpayers over time, not just among non-sewer-users.)

Of course, large projects like this are ever-evolving, and costs beyond the original estimate—and some are projected—will come from the WPCA reserve fund. Once all is said and done, this left about $28.5million to be paid by sewer users (including yours truly) over 20 years. We are required by law to apportion this by usage.

Since there’s no way to meter actual sewer usage, there are only two ways to apportion fees. One is to tie fees to metered water usage. There are several problems with this approach. First, a number of sewer users are not on municipal water, so we have no idea how much water they use. Next, this approach would lead to an unpredictable revenue stream, which would make it difficult to manage a facility our size. Finally, the costs of administering such a billing system would only add to the costs paid by users.

A more sensible approach—one used by at least half the towns in the state—creates classes of usage. We have 35 of them. Two are residential; those with one or fewer bedrooms pay 25% less than those with two or more bedrooms.

Some suggest we have more classes—one for three bedrooms and another for four and so. But as you know, the number of bedrooms beyond one is an inaccurate way to measure actual household size (and thus usage). Four example, Peggy and I live in a four-bedroom empty nest.

When New Canaan was looking recently for a way to apportion their fees, they actually decided to adopt ours, because it was the fairest.

Still, all this explanation is little consolation for those on fixed incomes who now have to pay an additional $140 twice a year. I can promise you that the town and the WPCA are looking into ways to mitigate the impact on those, including seniors and people with disabilities, for whom this may be a burden.

Like many of you, I’m a homeowner, and if my furnace or hot water heater go, no matter how much I rant and rave, I have to bite the bullet and replace them, painful as it may be. That’s where we’re at as a town. Because of the new regulations, many other towns are< about to find themselves in the exact same situation.

But because we acted quickly and applied for a grant before funding evaporated, we’re in much better shape than they will be.

Sorry for the long essay, but with so much misinformation flying around on the subject, I wanted you to have the facts.