Fairfield Officials Direct One-time Budget Surplus to Environmental Cleanup

Penfield Pavilion (Credit: Google Map Data, 2022)

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FAIRFIELD – At a Monday Board of Selectmen meeting, town officials opted to direct a significant portion of the budget surplus of about $12 million toward three major waste remediation projects – the fill pile, the “Julian Fill” sites and the Penfield pavilion.

Chief Fiscal Officer Jared Schmitt explained that about $8.4 million of the surplus came from unexpected revenue, including levies, delinquent taxes, and conveyance taxes. The town had also over-bugeted by $3.6 million.

But at a September Board of Finance meeting announcing the year-end finances, Schmitt warned officials not to get too comfortable with the large surplus.

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“There are some one-time things on the revenue side that we’re not going to see in the future,” Schmitt said.

The 2021-22 surplus was nearly 22 percent higher than a 2020-21 surplus of approximately $9.88 million.

Lori Charlton, chair of the Board of Finance, told CT Examiner that about $6.8 million of the revenue surplus came from back tax collections on the Jack property – a 20 acre, waterfront estate on Sasco Hill.

The property, once valued at almost $35 million, became tax delinquent in 2013 before it was sold to developers in 2021 for $17.5 million. Charlton said the back taxes fell into the 2022 fiscal year.

Charlton said that the tax-collection rate was also “a little bit higher than budgeted,” contributing to the leftover funds.

The $3.6 million from over-budgeted expenditures will be appropriated by the Board of Finance. At the Monday meeting, Schmitt said the excess $8.4 million could go toward the three major waste remediation projects.

In 2016, tests concluded that the growing fill pile, a Fairfield dump site, had been contaminated when the company operating the pile, Julian Enterprises, had accepted loads containing PCBs and other waste. The site was shut down, and both the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and EPA issued notices of violation to the town.

The company also used locations across the town, including soccer fields and boatyards, to store materials from the pile in an effort to decrease its size. Samples taken from these “Julian Fill” sites found instances of asbestos and PCBs.

The Penfield Beach pavilion, a “Julian Fill” site, continues to pose problems for the town. DEEP has ordered the removal of all materials beneath the building. And to comply with FEMA regulations, options to demolish and rebuild the pavilion or replace its foundation come with a multimillion dollar price tag.

Fairfield has spent almost $3.7 million testing and remediating the fill pile and two-thirds of the sites. Between the existing pile, remaining sites and the Penfield pavilion, costs are estimated at anywhere from $15 million to $20 million.

Charlton said the full cost is unknown until the town makes definitive agreements with DEEP and FEMA. She explained that the surplus would help, but not solve the problem.

“This surplus, from the preliminary numbers I’ve seen, would not be adequate to pay for 100 percent of the environmental liabilities and Penfield remediation and reconstruction, but it would get us a good part of the way there,” she said.

The Board of Selectmen voted to acknowledge the $8.4 million as revenue and approved its transfer to the remediation account. Both the Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting must approve the transfer as well.