Sewer savings: Trumbull, Bridgeport shake on 10-year sewage agreement

A new sewer deal between Trumbull and Bridgeport has been finalized, following Monday's Bridgeport City Council meeting.
A new sewer deal between Trumbull and Bridgeport has been finalized, following Monday's Bridgeport City Council meeting.

Savings equal smiles.

And First Selectman Tim Herbst is certainly smiling this week following a decision from the Bridgeport City Council that established a new 10-year sewage treatment deal that cuts waste spending for Trumbull taxpayers from 13.5% to 8%.

“This agreement represents significant benefits to the Town of Trumbull,” said Herbst in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “Bridgeport was demanding a 0% discount be applied to the Town of Trumbull and that did not happen. The Town of Trumbull will retain a discount rate for a significant period of time.”

Furthermore, according to Herbst, the City of Bridgeport cannot directly bill Trumbull residents as they attempted to do over the course of the last decade through several different administrations.

“What Bridgeport residents pay for their rate, we will pay the same to Bridgeport,” Herbst said of the 9,300 Trumbull households that former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch wanted to pay the same as their sewer-using neighbors in Bridgeport despite the fact that only Trumbull waste was only treated in one of the city’s two sewage treatment facilities.

Perhaps most important is that the deal allows Trumbull to have flexibility in the future. The town is not prohibited, under the terms of the new contract, to seek different options for waste disposal after the first seven years of the deal.

According to the terms of the deal, there’s no discount in the final two years of the contract, and it can be extended three additional years into 2030.

“If we fail to find an alternate location in the next 13 years we have reserved our right to file a rate appeal after year 13,” Herbst explained. “Given the negotiated discount, we estimate a $2 million dollar savings to Trumbull users over the 13-year period.

“Trumbull can find an alternative and get out of the contract any time after year seven,” he added.

Compared to its old contract with Bridgeport that locked the town in for 20 years, Herbst said the freedom of the new deal should give Trumbull residents confidence in finding a potential long-term partner down the road.

“Bridgeport can’t inhibit us from leaving,” he said. “The old contract between Trumbull and Bridgeport had a penalty provision if we went over the number of gallons allocated. In this agreement, there is no penalty provision.”

Town Attorney Dennis Kokenos, a member of the Trumbull-based firm Owens, Schine & Nicola, P.C., told the times that the penalty provision in the old contract was open ended, while the new contract has a penalty cap for excess flows.

Herbst claimed that Trumbull would not be paying litigation and engineering costs to fight this rate, which he said represents an estimated savings of $100,000 per year.

Looking back

The six-and-half-year dispute between Trumbull and Bridgeport has been a rollercoaster of sorts.  

The previous agreement was negotiated by former First Selectman David Wilson and Mayor Ganim’s first administration in 1998.

Since then, Trumbull has been in negotiations with the City of Bridgeport relative to Trumbull’s contractual arrangement to treat its wastewater effluent through the Bridgeport WPCA.

“When the existing agreement was coming to a conclusion, in 2012 the Town of Trumbull began a feasibility study to determine the most appropriate course of action for Trumbull’s WPCA to treat its wastewater effluent,” Herbst told The Times. “Over the last year, a series of mediations between Trumbull and Bridgeport have been held before Chief Administrative Judge Barbara Bellis of the Bridgeport Superior Court.”

Herbst pointed out that during the course of these deliberations, it was determined that a plausible long term arrangement between Trumbull and Bridgeport could not be reached. “Bridgeport advised Trumbull that it wished to end its contractual arrangement with our town,” Herbst said. “This was confounding, in light of the fact that Bridgeport would be giving up 20% of its revenue source from the Town of Trumbull to manage its WPCA plants.”

Future plans

With the City Council approving the plan Monday night,  Herbst called the agreement a “more plausible, alternate solution” than what was put on the table before.

Looking ahead, the first selectman acknowledged that the agreement provides for a discount rate that will eventually be phased out over a 10-year period — a 1% discount annually before the no discount clause kicks in the final two years.

“The discount rate would be placed in an escrow account pending Trumbull’s departure from Bridgeport,” Herbst explained. “During the next 10 years the Town of Trumbull will explore other options to treat its wastewater effluent.

“If Trumbull fails to find alternate methods to treats its effluent, our municipality retains its right to file rate appeals with the City of Bridgeport after year ten.”