LETTER: Stand up for open government
Per Connecticut state statutes, Water Pollution Control Authorities "acquire, construct and operate a sewerage system or systems." The Trumbull WPCA also believes that it has the authority to spend $10 million and unilaterally declare it won't pay, leaving the taxpayers to pick up the tab.
At the request of the WPCA, the Town Council authorized bonding $34 million for the North Nichols sewer project. It was represented that the town would pay 25% and the WPCA would assess properties being serviced to raise the rest. That has been the practice since the town began sewer development.
The WPCA and its appointing authority, the first selectman, gave no indication that some of the funds for this project would not be considered sewer charges that the WPCA would refuse to repay. In fact, prior to hiring Tighe & Bond for program oversight, the commissioners debated who should cover the cost. They voted to follow the position of Commissioner Hampford that T&B was a legitimate cost and not ask the town to cover it.
Incredibly, the WPCA has decided after the fact that Tighe & Bond, which was represented as paying for itself through "value engineering," is the town's responsibility at a cost of over $2 million. Other costs excluded from assessments and thus transferred to the town ledger include paving, traditionally a project expense, and sewer rework. The total transfer is $10 million, or nearly $300 for every Trumbull resident. The assessments were ratified at the WPCA's December meeting without approval from the Board of Finance or Town Council.
How did the WPCA create this new "policy"? No one knows because there is no documented discussion or vote in the minutes. How can that be? Furthermore, does anyone believe an appointed commission would shift $10 million to the town without discussing it with the first selectman? Where's the transparency? Despite transferring a large liability to the town ledger, the WPCA didn't even let non-North Nichols residents speak at its public hearing.
I think many of us are sympathetic to the plight of North Nichols, but backroom dealings by the WPCA are not the answer. It's time for the Town Council to assert its authority as the legislative body solely responsible for approving town spending. It's also time for the Board of Finance to challenge attempts to evade its financial scrutiny. Perhaps if our leaders stood up for open government in this manner we would identify solutions that serve the needs of all of Trumbull.
As a final note, consider that the WPCA and first selectman are currently involved in negotiations with Bridgeport for sewer regionalization. There has been silence on the town's position and progress. If they can't be counted on to determine assessments in an open, transparent manner, how can we depend on them to represent us in a negotiation that could cost Trumbull hundreds of millions of dollars as Bridgeport rebuilds its obsolete wastewater collection system?