The Board of Selectmen (BOS) held their monthly meeting on Monday, August 2, covering, among other concerns, the amendments to the Water Ordinance tabled from a public hearing on July 21. Pending answers to questions posed Monday night, the BOS tabled approval of the Water Ordinance amendments, which would allow the town to charge benefit assessments to users along municipal water lines, until a to-be-scheduled special session of the board later this month.
Joe Grimes, who owns a contracting company on Silvermine Road, had questions about the neighboring water line on Dean Road, constructed privately and managed by Rural Water Company, a public utility. Three of the homes served by that water system have lot lines on Silvermine Road and have the potential to connect directly to the Silvermine water line, however, as they already have access to a public water system, they can opt out of the assessment under the ordinance amendments. (Users with frontage on any of the municipal water lines not served by existing water systems will have to pay the assessment charge regardless of whether they tie into those lines.)
"From the beginning I was told that we would be assessed for the cost of the line, and I have no problem with that," Grimes said. "We were also told that properties [on Dean Road] would not be assessed because they were on the Dean Road water line. But within hours of the line opening, they've been tied in, so we have 35 or so properties that are not being assessed."
"They have already paid for their water line," First Selectman Bill Davidson said, whether through the original construction costs of the Dean Road system or through higher property values, "Secondly, the law says you can only assess 200 feet from the line," precluding the town from assessing the length of Dean Road, and "Third and most importantly, we have to ask, 'Why is that pipe there?' Because the Dean Road water system has 50,000 excess gallons of water a day and the point is to have that flow into the Silvermine line, not the other way."
According to Davidson and the town's water projects consultant Martin Handshy, water from the Dean Road line will supplement that of the Brookfield Water Company wells. The Department of Public Health (DPH) approved the Dean Road system as a source for the Silvermine line in order to meet the 10-year load requirements. "The more sources that you have tied into the system, the better off you are," Handshy said.
"It's not equitable, it's not fair," Grimes said, "This isn't like it was 20 years after the system was put in, it was 48 hours." While he understood the reason behind connecting the lines, Grimes argued that connecting to the new line will add value to the properties on Dean Road. "I have good clean water from a well," he said, deflating the argument that an additional water source would not add value, "If their pumps fail or there is a contamination, they can hook up.
"If they were to say, 'Yes, we're hooked up and we're going to use water from that line 100 percent,' would you be of a different mind of how they should be assessed," Grimes asked rhetorically, "If so, then you need to tweak your formula."
Patrick Blanchfield, who suggested that approval of the amendment be tabled at the public hearing, was concerned with the equity of the four-factor assessment model as applied to condominium owners.
The proposed assessment is modeled after Danbury's assessment formula, which weighs four factors equally at 25 percent: frontage on the water line, total lot area, the number of units and the assessed value as of October 2009. For condominium owners, three of the four factors will be the same within a given development, except for assessed value, which will vary depending on the unit.
"All condominiums are not the same size," Blanchfield explained, "As a matter of fact, a one room has an assessed valuation of probably $75,000, $85,000. A two bedroom, five rooms, has an assessed valuation of $210,000. You break it down into three parts that are equal and one part that is unequal."
"So if you live in a condominium complex and you have a unit that is twice the value of your neighbor, the difference [in assessment] is only 14 percent," Selectman Howard Lasser clarified, "It doesn't seem equitable." Lasser would have preferred to charge the condo association directly and let them divide the cost equitably, however the associations are not taxable entities, "so we don't have that avenue."
"There is no way that you could tell someone with a condo with an $80,000 value, 'You're going to pay within $400 of someone with a condo worth twice as much,'" Blanchfield argued, "They're not going to stand for it Bill, it's not right."
"The intent of the formula is to meet all the known needs of all the water lines," Davidson said, explaining that the goal was to create one universal formula for the four existing water lines (the Northern Lines, Barnbeck, Silvermine and the proposed Southern Line) and any future ones. "We're trying to build a structure that is reasonably equitable for all," he continued, "and I know if you pull out individual pieces, clearly there will be iniquities. I understand what Pat is saying, but I'm reluctant to make special modifications to the rules."
Davidson pointed out that it was "not imperative that we vote on this tonight," however they do have to have the ordinance in place before September to get the first assessment bills out before October. He asked that the BOS table the discussion again to consider the Dean Road and condominium issues before voting.
Selectman Lasser also had an issue with users' ability to pre-pay the full assessment, rather than pay it down over the life of the 20-year bond. Pre-paid funds would be placed in an interest bearing account, however Lasser was concerned that the interest on those funds would not keep up with the interest on the bond, creating a deficit.
The proposed amendments provide for recalculating the assessments in later years to deal with this potential issue, but Lasser was uncomfortable leaving the it unresolved for future boards to deal with.
"If we have an alternative, then we should pursue it," he said, "If we don't, then we'll have to leave it in."