OLD LYME — The Old Lyme Sewer Coalition, LLC, has hired an attorney and an appraiser to challenge the town’s cost-benefit assessment to pay for the planned installation of sewers in Sound View Beach and Miscellaneous Area B, arguing that the town’s formula violates Connecticut General Statutes §7-249 prohibiting assessments in excess of the benefits accrued to property owners.
“The statute states expressly ‘[t]he sum of initial and subsequent assessments shall not exceed the special benefit accruing to the property’ and later repeats this limitation, ‘[n]o assessment shall be made against any property in excess of the special benefit to accrue to such property,’ wrote Attorney Keith Ainsworth in a June 11 letter to Richard Prendergast, chair of the Old Lyme Water Pollution Control Authority.
According to an analysis prepared separately by Marc Nadeau of Nadeau Associates on behalf of the coalition, the estimated benefit from the installation of sewers would amount to an additional seven percent for residential values in the beach community and an additional 10 percent for commercial properties.
The Sound View Sewer Coalition, LLC, was formed in early August 2019, after a number of residents gathered in response to a scheduled August 13, 2019 referendum. That referendum, to approve borrowing $9.5 million to install sewers in Sound View, passed 883 to 565 in a hotly-contested vote.
That $9.5 million cost is expected to be reduced to $7.44 million, when the town secures an offsetting Clean Water Funds grant.
Nadeau’s estimate differs from the WPCA formula, which would charge property owners a base price of $15,000 plus an additional amount calculated on square footage of the building. Property owners would also pay a $6,000 hook-up fee and an annual user fee equaling $430 plus an amount calculated from Equivalent Dwelling Unit formula.
A second similar formula was also later proposed by WPCA board member Frank Chan.
Both formulas divide the total $7.44 million cost by approximately 240 units to arrive at a EDU formula.
Ainsworth wrote he had been “monitoring the activities of the WPCA in anticipation of its express intention to place the entire cost of the sewering onto the residents of Sound View.” He said that Connecticut’s Appellate and Supreme Courts have ruled that “the use of a special benefit assessment to fund the improvement may mean that the cost of the sewerage system cannot be fully recouped by the town.”
“The warning of the Appellate Court is clear: municipalities should not fool themselves into believing they can avoid all costs of wastewater infrastructure and operation to those outside of the sewer districts. Once fair benefit assessments have been made, the taxpayers will be responsible for the remainder,” wrote Ainsworth.
Ainsworth said the “WPCA’s plan to foist the cost of the sewerage system onto the Sound View neighborhood on a purely pro rata basis is contrary to binding case law and is illegal. Moreover, the WPCA seems intent on utilizing a method that is not even pro rata, but by inflating the cost of proposed sewer hookup fees, appears to be designed to capture more than an equitable share of the infrastructure cost for other parts of the community.”
The estimates included in Nadeau’s study were “ridiculously low,” Prendergast said in response by phone on Saturday.
“Their opinion is there is no value added in and our opinion is there is more value,” he said.
Prendergast said the WPCA followed the same statutes and methods as the appraisal and he said reference documents were available on the town WPCA site. He said the town hired Chris Kerin, of Kerin Fazio Valuation Group in Fairfield, that Prendergast said specializes in sewer appraisals.
“Ainsworth hired a consultant that does not specialize in sewer benefits,” Prendergast.
In his letter, Ainsworth also urged the authority to allow for an open discussion of the issue, noting that public comment had been suspended at a number of recent WPCA meetings.
“It would be far more productive and in the spirit of fair and open government to engage in sincere dialogue rather than play games of intrigue that carry the penalties of liability,” wrote Ainsworth.
Prendergast said “dialogue is a mischaracterization.”
“We had two meetings where we suspended public comments. We’ve never suspended emails and we’re not required to have public comments, but we want them. It’s just that in COVID-19 … if you listen in to our first meeting, I think you will agree it was a little crazy because people were saying things and they were interfering with the progress of the meeting.”
Public comments were allowed at a June 9 meeting, Prendergast said, because the WPCA had a better handle on the technology.
“We want public comments and we have adjusted our method based on public comments. To say that we’re not listening is misleading. We’re responding on the basis of the good for the entire town, not just a couple of residents that don’t want to pay,” he said.
Frank Pappalardo, a Sound View resident and member of the coalition, said Saturday that the WPCA has not been listening and that’s what led to the coalition hiring an attorney and an appraiser.
“At this point they’ve been talking a lot, but they haven’t really done anything. We wanted to say, ‘Hey, you’re talking and you’re going down the wrong track so let’s get out in front of this thing and tell you where we’re going to be coming from.’ … We’ve been telling them this for years now … let’s sit down and talk. The ball’s in their court now,” he said.