Equal sewer assessments ‘unjust,’ homeowner tells council review commission
While many officials feel it is only fair that property owners share in the cost of sewers equally rather than paying on the basis of the length of pipe along a property line, Marjorie Murphy of Highland Beach said on Tuesday that such a policy would “push me out of my house.”
Murphy stopped by the Warwick Beacon after addressing the Council Sewer Review Commission earlier that morning to tell her story and put in a plea that the Sewer Authority consider property value and ability to pay when establishing sewer assessments. Also, she suggested the cost of new sewers be shared by all of the city’s 35,000 homeowners.
According to estimates, it is going to cost $33 million to bring sewers to six neighborhoods, including Murphy’s, which would be part of the Bayside projects. Based on the projection, 1,500 property owners would equally share in the cost of the projects; everyone would be faced with a $22,000 assessment.
Murphy, whose home is on a 50-by-80 lot, said she was told about 15 years ago that she would get sewers in three to four years and that, based on her frontage, she could expect to pay a $4,000 assessment. She said she was told there were loan programs and that, because of her low income, there would be other forms of relief.
In her statement to the commission, Murphy said, “anyone who has lived in Warwick their whole lives knows that when sewers come into your neighborhood, you pay by the foot. Now you are telling the remaining 45 percent of us [the percentage of Warwick homes without access to sewers] that we will now split the cost evenly, pay a much higher rate than the rest of the city and that there are no more grants to help subsidize these costs.”
Murphy is not opposed to bringing sewers to the neighborhood. She has a cesspool now and questions whether she even has sufficient property for a septic system.
An argument made by Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur, who chairs the review commission, is that septic systems can cost as much as a sewer assessment yet have a limited life. Ladouceur said yesterday the commission, which he hopes will have its recommendations ready for council consideration on March 17, is “exploring lots of options.” But, he also said, “At the end of the day, you’ve got to pay the bill.” As for Murphy’s situation, he felt she should be happy to know sewers will be coming to her neighborhood. Noting the size of her house lot, he said, you can’t put a septic system on that lot and if the cesspools are being phased out, what are you going to do? The value of the property is going to plummet.“I can smell it [sewage] when it rains,” Murphy said of the neighborhood. “My problem is the cost and having to divvy it up that way. $22,000 is a huge hit for someone like me. I will have to walk away [from her house] and I don’t want to.”
The City Council has approved $33 million in revenue bonds for the Sewer Authority to extend sewers to Highland Beach, Riverview and Longmeadow [the Bayside projects], as well as the next phase of sewers to Governor Francis Farms, Greenwood and the O’Donnell Hill neighborhood. The authority expects to borrow the funds from Clean Water Finance at reduced interest rates, passing those savings on to homeowners paying assessments.
As part of its deliberations on enabling legislation, which would require passage by the council and General Assembly, the authority is not only considering equal assessments, but also extending the payment of assessments to 30 years – it’s currently 20 – and limiting interest to 1.25 percent more than the borrowing cost. Ladouceur said the assessment rate would be set as part of the authority’s rules and regulations, at which time there would be a public hearing. He doesn’t believe there would be a public hearing on the enabling legislation.
Murphy considered low interest rates into her calculations and estimated by the time she is 81 years old, she will have paid $37,000. She put her quarterly assessment cost at $315.
Murphy argues that people with larger and higher appraised properties can afford to pay more.
“To impose a blanket fee, which is significantly higher than previous projects, to 1,500 of us in this phase of installation based on nothing other than being a homeowner in need of sewers is unjust,” she told the commission.