Town Council Democrat Martha Jankovic-Mark, who is challenging First Selectman Timothy Herbst in the November election, criticized a recent 34% increase in the town’s sewer-use rates, calling on Herbst for an explanation.

The rates increased to $5.95 per 100 cubic feet, Jankovic-Mark said in a press release, and are now based on all water usage, not just water  going into sanitary sewers. That includes water used on lawns or in pools, Mark said.

“This rate hike is much greater than any other increase in memory,” Jankovic-Mark said. “It’s going to dramatically increase the out-of-pocket costs of almost all Trumbull residents, and it comes on top of an aggressive record.

of increasing taxes and spending under the regime of Tim Herbst. It has to stop.”

Herbst fired back Tuesday night saying Mark’s comments show a lack of understanding on how town government operates.

“The rate increase that Mrs. Mark is referring to was negotiated 20 years ago under the administration of Democratic First Selectman David Wilson,” Herbst said in a written response. “A decision was made a long time ago to enter into a 20-year contract with Bridgeport. Trumbull taxpayers are now the victims of this poor decision making.

“My administration, through the WPCA, has filed two different lawsuits to prevent further outrageous increases from Bridgeport,” Herbst said. “Further, we are exploring other options to deal with wastewater management that would discontinue our relationship with Bridgeport.”

Herbst criticized Mark for not being part of an executive session that addressed WPCA issues.

“A few months ago, Town Attorney Dennis Kokenos invited any and all council members to join the WPCA in executive session to talk about the lawsuits and engage in a dialogue to assist the WPCA in finding ways to reduce rates and educate the members about the issues,” Herbst said. “Ms. Mark did not attend one meeting. This is why she has no understanding of these issues. This is why she ‘Misses the Mark.’”

On the sewer rate hikes, Jankovic-Mark said statements made by the Herbst-appointed Water Pollution Control Authority have also been troubling. The commission chairwoman, Karen Egri, said in local media that the increase just reflects an inherited increase. Another WPCA commissioner stated, “This won’t stop. It’s going to keep on going up.”

“I reject this dismissive attitude,” Jankovic-Mark said. “As first selectman, I will explore ways to roll back these increases, and charge sewer users for the water that actually enters the system.”

Mark criticized the first selectman for running over budget on the North Nichols Sewer Project and passing $10 million of that cost to Trumbull taxpayers. She called for a financial audit of the WPCA.

Herbst responded that the North Nichols sewer project should have never started after “the mess” in Jog Hill.

“The project had cost overruns, like every other project before it, because the projects were not properly bid and did not comport to accepted purchasing practices,” he said.

Town spending

Jankovic-Mark also criticized Herbst for increases in overall town spending, pointing to an aggregated four-year spending increase of nearly $20 million, or 13%, on a total budget of $160 million. She also said non-education spending has increased even more, at a rate of more than 17%.

“Tim Herbst talks a good game on fiscal management, but his record doesn’t match the results,” Jankovic-Mark said. “On the contrary, he appears not to have control of the town government, instead letting spending increases and special interests roll forward unchecked.”

On top of that, pay-to-participate fees charged to families of school students engaged in sports are the second highest in the state under Herbst’s tenure, Mark said.

Herbst said Mark is failing to tell taxpayers that the biggest driver in the 17% increase in non-education spending,  are costs associated with the Board of Education. He said if Mark has a problem with town spending she should talk to leaders of the Democratic Party, who make up the majority on the Board of Education.

“In this year’s budget, town departments saw an increase of 1.9%,” Herbst said. “The Board of Education saw an increase of 2.74%.”

He also noted his handling of the pension fund, which he said was neglected by previous administrations.

“Rather than kick the can, we dealt with the problem,” Herbst said. “If we did not deal with this problem the town’s bond rating and financial position would have been compromised.”

While Mark just announced her candidacy two weeks ago at the Democratic Convention, Herbst said her campaign has been misleading so far.

“The taxpayers of Trumbull do not need a first selectman who will be deceitful for political gain,” Herbst said. “That is exactly how Mrs. Mark and the Trumbull Democratic Party have chosen to begin this campaign.”

You can read Martha Jankovic-Mark’s full statement here and Herbst’s full statement here.