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Old Lyme water authority weighs changes to sewer project fee formula

Old Lyme — The Water Pollution Control Authority overwhelmingly voted down a proposal Tuesday night seeking to tweak a formula dictating how much homeowners living in Sound View would have to pay to hook up to a sewer system planned for the area.

Members of the WPCA cited the need for more research and legal counsel before passing the change.

The WPCA has been considering tweaking the formula since it was passed earlier this year, WPCA Chairman Rich Prendergast said. The formula dictates how much homeowners living in the Sound View and Miscellaneous Town Area B neighborhoods, north of Sound View, would pay to hook into state-ordered sewer upgrades planned for the neighborhoods — a $9.5 million plan that town voters passed in an August referendum, but for which future ratepayers must pay back $7.44 million over the next two decades.

The original formula outlined that homeowners would have to pay both a $6,000 connection fee and a betterment assessment fee starting at $15,000. The assessment fee then would increase based on the exact livable square footage of a home.

The formula, however, yielded extreme cost disparities between those owning a small cottage, for example, and those owning a large home.

The owner of an average 1,242-square-foot, or mid-size, home, for example, would pay an estimated $31,007, while on the high end, a homeowner with a more than 6,000-square-foot structure could be on the hook for upward of $100,000. Those with smaller homes would pay as low as $21,000, Prendergast said.

Such disparities have prompted complaints from homeowners in the neighborhood, including by Sound View Commission Chairman Frank Pappalardo, who questioned the formula with The Day before the referendum passed. First Selectman Tim Griswold also criticized the plan during his campaign this past fall, saying he would encourage the WPCA to come up with a better one.

The WPCA has said the original formula was never set in stone and is still a working concept. The formula was passed to help give homeowners an idea of what they would have to pay to hook up to the sewer system in order to make an informed decision while voting, Prendergast said Tuesday.

WPCA Vice Chair Frank Chan proposed the formula that was voted down Tuesday. The formula was first presented to the WPCA in October, and sought to make the current charging formula more equitable for everyone, Prendergast explained, by essentially "tweaking" it to decrease the disparities.

The absolute highest a property owner could pay under the new formula would be capped at $48,000, while the lowest is at $21,000, again depending on home size.

Similar to the already passed formula, Chan’s outlines that each dwelling would pay a $21,000 fee — comprising of both the betterment assessment and connection fees — and then would pay an additional “cost adjustment,” which he broke down into five tiers depending on home size.

The tiered charging plan allows those with larger homes of more than 3,000 square feet — the highest tier —to pay an additional cost adjustment of $27,296 on top of the $21,000 baseline fee, while those with homes less than 500 square feet would not pay an additional cost adjustment. Owners of homes in between those sizes would pay a rate that would depend on which tier they fall into.

Chan’s proposal, however, raised other concerns from WPCA members, who worried the plan would need additional legal counsel before being passed and that the formula also would not make everyone happy because of its tiered organization.

Member Steve Cinami said he was concerned that many homeowners would unfairly have to pay thousands more in their cost adjustments if their homes, say, happen to fall into the low spectrum of a higher tier. For example, a home slightly larger than 1,000 square feet would have to pay nearly $7,000 more than the owner of a 999-square-foot house, he said.

Since the WPCA wasn’t fully comfortable or confident in the proposed changes, Prendergast said the authority will seek legal counsel before again discussing the formula at a future meeting. He said the group likely would pass a formula close to what Chan has proposed, depending on feedback from counsel.

m.biekert@theday.com

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