It’s a bittersweet celebration for homeowners in the Phase III section of Governor Francis sewers. After years of waiting and about 18 months of torn up roads and earth moving equipment crossing the neighborhood, they finally have sewers and are capable of making connections.
Then there’s the matter of what started arriving in mailboxes last week – the bill.
The assessment for each property owner – the total cost of the project divided by the number properties with service connection capability – is $24,399.39. The assessment really doesn’t come as a surprise. Even before streets were marked to indicate where gas and water lines were buried, assessments were projected at more than $20,000.
It was the timing of the bills and the injustice of it all – assessments for Phase 1 and Phase 2 of Governor Francis sewers are substantially less – that set off a brush fire of social media complaints and a press release from Mark Cardarelli.
Cardarelli pointed out that the first of the annual installments – a $1,700 payment reflecting a 3.418 percent annual interest rate to be charged on the unpaid principal for a term of 20 years – was due in April. Observing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on businesses and how employees are being laid off, he wrote, “many state and local leaders are looking into ways to mitigate the financial impact on local communities and the state at large …”
That all changed quickly. Within hours of the press release being forwarded to the mayor’s office, the Beacon was informed that the mayor’s action to extend property tax and utility payments until June also applied to sewer assessments.
A follow-up email from the mayor’s office on Wednesday reads, “The notices that residents recently received in the mail are not bills. Rather, they are notice to ensure residents are aware of the entire cost of each home’s sewer connection, and homeowners have up to 20 years to pay for the full assessment cost. The actual bills will be processed and mailed in mid-April (and Mayor Solomon has granted extensions for all tax deadlines).”
That’s of some consolation, although it doesn’t lessen the overall amount of the assessment, which Cardarelli fears may now be etched in stone. Like Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur, Cardarelli finds it unfair that property owners should be paying for the repaving of streets at the conclusion of a sewer project when the city as a whole benefits from those roads. In addition, he believes National Grid, which took advantage of the open trenches to upgrade gas lines, is paying a portion of the repaving, although that credit isn’t coming off the assessment.
“But instead of the city saying, ‘Hey, we can reduce the cost (to the homeowner),’ they used that money elsewhere,” said Cardarelli.
Furthermore, after looking at the list of streets repaved last year, he believes the city is purposely avoiding projects in the ward even though those roads are not within the area of sewer construction. He said there was not a single city paid-for road repaving in Ward 1 last year.
“Delays by city government, delays in construction, arbitrary re-allocation to other projects of earmarked funds initially authorized for Governor Francis sewer work – all threaten to leave Phase III residents with bills for 100 percent of the cost," Cardarelli writes.
In response to the question of shared cost of repaving, the release from the mayor’s office reads: “The have been questions as to whether National Grid contributed to the paving costs. It is important to note that the Rhode Island Utility Fair Share Roadway Repair Act was passed in July of 2019; with the passage of that Act, public utilities are now required to repave and repair the roadway to the satisfaction of the state or municipality controlling the road. However, at the time of Phase III of the Governor Francis Farms Sewer Project, public utilities were required by law to put a permanent patch in the road. National Grid did do this. The gas lines were installed knowing that the sewer project was going to happen, but Grid was not required at the time to pave half of the road.”
Additionally, it reads, “There have also been questions regarding the cost of road paving in the project. The cost of road paving is a minor cost driver in this project, since the final paving cost makes up approximately nine percent of the project. The rest of the cost is for the installation of sewer pipe, manholes, forcemain, and a pumping station.”
Cardarelli manages a Facebook page with about 168 members to get out information on the sewer project. Questions are also posted on the page, which he hopes Earl Bond, director of the Warwick Sewer Authority, will answer.
As for his personal situation, Cardarelli said he has a reasonably new septic system that is functional and he has no immediate plans to tie into the sewers. He notes that making the connection would be an additional $2,000 to $3,000 plus quarterly usage fees that are based on water consumption.
Cardarelli finds the method of assessments where all property owners equally share the cost of a project fairer than the linear foot system it replaced several years ago as a result of the sewer review commission Ladouceur founded and chaired. That system was based on the linear footage of a property on a line and set periodically by the sewer authority. The commission’s work also resulted in capping the interest on assessment payments at no more than 1.25 percent more than what the authority was able to borrow the money for and providing for a 30-year payment plan. The 30-year plan only applies in those cases where the authority is able to bond a project for 30 years. In the case of Governor Francis III, the authority obtained a 20-year note from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank utilizing State Revolving Fund capital.