November 28, 2014
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Sewer chair wants to have answers

While the City Council’s decision to postpone action on endorsing amendments to the Warwick Sewer Authority’s enabling legislation is a disappointment, it doesn’t diminish Aaron Guckian’s goal to let people know if and when they can expect sewers.

Newly elected chairman, Guckian said some homeowners face “desperate” situations as cesspools are phased out and they must bear the expense of costly septic systems to replace them.

Guckian said the authority aims “to get as many sewers to people as possible.” But he doesn’t want to have people expecting sewers only to have construction delayed or forgone. Likewise, he doesn’t want to tell residents sewers aren’t a possibility and then turn around and build them.

“We’ve got to be able to say we can do it, or we can’t, so people know,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

His remarks came the day after the council put aside action on a package of revisions to the authority’s enabling legislation. The amendments require approval of the General Assembly and in order to gain that, the authority was looking for the council’s endorsement. As the council won’t meet again until after the adjournment of the General Assembly, changes in the legislation, if approved, will have to wait until 2014.

Key elements to revisions are a 20-year delay in assessment payments to a property owner who has installed a septic system and changes in the method of assessments.

Presently, the authority uses the linear footage of a property to determine the assessment that includes a factor for large properties. The method does not account for the number of housing units on a property or that large properties may only have one unit.

Changes in the method of assessment would stop inequities, said Guckian, and provide clear definitions of how the authority operates. He said revisions would enhance the board’s ability to help people.

Ward 8 Councilman Joseph Gallucci said yesterday he moved to place the resolution in the pending file, fearing there weren’t the votes to get it approved.

“Rather than for it to go down, let’s put in the pending file,” he said.

He said there appears to be a lack of understanding of what the legislation would do and additional time will enable the authority to address concerns, even though the General Assembly may not get to vote on the changes until next year.

On Monday, Gallucci not only voted to move it into the pending file, but also held his legislation – to grant the authority the power to borrow $23 million in revenue bonds.

“I didn’t want to confuse this [the revenue bonds] with the enabling legislation,” he said.

Gallucci has identified $60 million in needed sewer construction, which he feels should be done in phases. The first $23 million he envisions providing sewers to about 700 property owners in three projects in Ward 8 – O’Donnell’s Hill, Greenwood Manor and Pilgrim Estates. The funds would also be used to do projects in Ward 1 – Governor Francis Farms, and Ward 5, including Highland Beach, Riverview and Bayside. He plans for the resolution to come before the council on July 8.

Revenue bonds repaid with assessments and usage fees differ from “general obligation” bonds that are the responsibility of all of the city’s taxpayers. The last major general obligation sewer bond was for $130 million and was approved by voters in 1993. Another $50 million for sewers was approved in 2004, but this was a revenue bond and did not require voter approval.

Gallucci notes that neither of these bonds paid for projects in Ward 8, a section of the city that accounts for a third of the city’s tax base.

Janine Burke, executive director of the authority, said the $180 million spent on sewers paid for 150 miles of sewers, 24 pump stations, 12,000 services and wastewater treatment plant upgrades costing about $40 million.

On Monday, the council approved the creation of a sewer rate study committee as proposed by Ward 5 Councilman Edgar Ladouceur.

Guckian said he understands the council would want to further study the enabling legislation.

“I can see they want to take a deep breath and make the right decision,” he said.

Guckian said he wants to work with the council and answer their questions.

During the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, Ward 1 resident and School Committee member Eugene Nadeau pleaded for the council to put a stop to escalating costs, including what he said would be a $300 sewer connect capable fee if the enabling legislation is approved.

Guckian said that wouldn’t be the case.

“It’s the misinformation that frustrates me sometimes,” he said.

Gallucci said the enabling legislation does not cover a connect cable fee nor would it give the mayor the sole power to appoint the authority board, as has been speculated. He said the current method of appointing members would not be changed. The legislation would require the mayor and the council approve a connect capable fee and what the amount, if there were one, would be.

Guckian has been active in Republican circles. He ran on the party ticket as a candidate in Ward 1, losing to then incumbent Democrat Bob Cushman. He worked as an aide to former Governor Donald Carcieri during that administration. Guckian is an account officer for Washington Trust Bank.

Mayor Scott Avedisian appointed him to the Sewer Authority in 2007 and reappointed him in 2010. He succeeds Fred Sullivan as chairman.


Comments
1 comment on this item

It is interesting that Mr. Guckian appears to imply that the key part of the proposed changes in the enabling legislation was to give the sewer authority greater latitude in determining how to assess property owners regarding new construction. If that was the case, why did the sewer authority hire a legal firm, I believe expending $30,000, and submit a 20 page document to the council with numerous enabling legislation changes. If going for assessment equity was the goal, a paragraph in the current legislation could have been changed and Mr. Guckian could have saved $30,000. Mr. Gallucci is right, there was a lack of understanding of what the legislation would do. Maybe if the sewer authority had keyed in on the changes in assessment methodology, that could have moved the issue, especially if they thought that this issue was the key to equity.

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