Rebuilding public trust
A lot has been said about the Warwick Sewer Authority in the past year and, if there is any consensus, it is that changes are needed.
Reaching an agreement on how the authority should approach a host of issues; from how it arrives at assessments; what sections of the city should get sewers next; to how to cope with requirements to update its treatment plant; when to heighten the plant levees to avoid another 2010 flood; and who should pay for it all, won’t be easy.
Nonetheless, the City Council Sewer Review Commission is working on priorities and an agenda. At the most recent meeting, authority chairman Aaron Gluckian argued that the authority should move forward with those projects that have been designed and are ready once funding has been identified. Commission chair Edgar Ladouceur had his doubts. He wants to see greater emphasis on bringing sewers to the shoreline communities of Riverview and Highland Beach, as people living there face a deadline to close their cesspools and connect to sewers or pay for costly septic systems.
Guckian’s response is for the authority to go ahead with the “shovel ready” projects while designing those for the coastline communities.
That debate aside, Ladouceur is correct when he says it’s all a matter of money.
It appears unlikely that the administration would support a general obligation bond for about $16 million in treatment plant upgrades [mandated by the Department of Environmental Management] and the $5 million for levee work, even though the system as a whole benefits. It is more probable that these improvements will be funded by a revenue bond; meaning users would pay principal and interest costs. Also, as the commission is in agreement that those who will get sewers should pay for future projects, the authority is expected to use revenue bonds for those projects.
All of this does not bode favorably for those with sewers, or for those who will get them. Usage fees and assessments are on their way up.
But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.
Michelle Komar, the public member of the commission, is on target when she says the authority needs to accurately estimate costs and outline what and when projects are proposed. Rebuilding public trust is part of what the authority must do; making it fair for everyone, outlining costs and explaining the importance of the sewer system will go a long way to making that happen.