New Milford Sewer Commission grapples with how to repay $4.3 million to town
NEW MILFORD — The sewer commission hopes a visit from the town’s finance director at next month’s meeting will help create a plan to pay back the $4.3 million debt it owes to the town for a sewer treatment plant expansion.
Some of the suggestions from the mayor or discussed at previous meetings include charging sewer users a special, spreading the debt among all town residents, including those who aren’t connected to the town sewer system, and using unspent money from two Route 7 sewer line expansion projects.
On Monday, Sewer Commission Chairman Frank Bidetti said the total cost to the customer would be “outrageous” if a special fee were to be assessed.
The request for the finance director’s visit, as well as additional information about the commission’s outstanding debts and possible money sources, were part of a 90-minute discussion about how to pay back the debt at the commission’s Monday meeting.
The $4.3 million debt resulted from expanding and improving the town sewage treatment plant. The project was financed with $22.2 million in bonds, but the commission hasn’t always been able to pay its annual debt obligations, and the town has made payments on the commission’s behalf.
Last month, Mayor David Gronbach sent a letter to the commission calling for a plan to address the debt.
The commission expects to have a plan in place by the time the auditors review the town’s finances so that the town’s bond rating won’t be negatively affected.
“We do want to pay the debt, and we do want to create a plan, but we don’t want a plan that will cripple the sewer commission,” Bidetti said Monday.
Commission members also stressed how the plant is an asset to the town, encouraging economic development and attracting residents and businesses. Some said the a portion of the debt should be shared among all residents of the town. They added everyone has used the sewer at some point, including attending the high school, visiting downtown or emptying a septic tank.
“It is no different than me not having kids saying I don’t want to pay for the schools,” said Commissioner Bill Buckbee, adding the sewer district residents have already absorbed a huge chunk of the cost.
Some members also said the town should help with the plant expansion and improvement costs because the state ordered the work.
Commissioner Michael Bensema said a bulk of the project’s cost was the new state-required processes they had to implement at the plant, not the expanded capacity.
Gronbach maintains the sewer district should cover the costs because those residents and businesses directly benefit from the line. He said the commission is set up to be self-sufficient if properly managed.
Bensema said it is important to connect more residents and businesses to the town’s sewer system, but said it’s been challenging because of the slow economic recovery after the recession several years ago, and because sewer lines only existing in certain sections of town.
Questions also remain about how much money is left from the Route 7 project. Robert Pudelka, superintendent of the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority, said any money left from the $2.4 million projects should be used toward the debt because the commission paid the bonds on the project. He said the profits from buildings the commission purchased that were sold by the town should also be applied toward the debt.
Scott Chamberlain, who sits on the commission and Town Council, said he heard the state took the money back when it wasn’t used.
Gronbach has also said the commission is required to pay off debt before adding more money to its reserve fund.
The fund covers unexpected costs and planned projects related to the regular operation and maintenance of the plant.
“I think it’s very crucial for us to have and it would cripple the sewer commission if we didn’t have the depreciation fund,” Bidetti said.
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