Following lengthy discussion at a special town meeting, voters by an 81-to-11 margin have approved borrowing $2.8 million to expand the Hawleyville sanitary sewer system to spur local economic development.
Approximately 100 people attended the February 26 standing-room-only meeting held at Newtown Municipal Center.
At the outset of the session, First Selectman Pat Llodra stressed that false information on the sewer expansion project had been posted on the Internet by an anonymous person who opposes the project. Mrs Llodra said that the information that questions the motives of town officials is “insulting.”
Fred Hurley, town public works director, said the sewer expansion project has evolved during the past three years, adding that the $2.8 million in bonding for the project reflects a scaled-down version of what earlier had been a $5 million expansion concept.
Adding sanitary sewers to the area, which already has public water, natural gas, electric, and communications utilities, is intended to make large undeveloped properties there more attractive to developers of commercial/industrial projects.
“We need to change the ‘mix’ of our grand list,” Mrs Llodra said, emphasizing the desirability of increasing its commercial/industrial component as a means to ease property tax pressure on residents.
William Stevens of 139 Huntingtown Road expressed opposition to the sewer expansion.
There is no guarantee that taxpayers will receive any tax relief as a result of the project, he said. Mr Stevens asked whether town officials would pledge that there will be such tax relief.
Kevin Fitzgerald of 24 Old Farm Hill Road said he expects that town officials have good intentions in terms of expanding the sewer system, but added that after having served on the Legislative Council in the past, he has become very suspicious of the actions of the local government.
Richard Zang, chairman of the Water & Sewer Authority (WSA), said that under the project’s plans, no actual development would need to occur for the town to recover its sewer construction costs.
The four major pieces of undeveloped commercial property affected by the sewering project would have sewer assessments placed on them, based on those properties’ increased values due to the presence of sewers, he said. Those four properties’ owners would then pay off the town’s sewer construction costs across a 20-year period, he said.
Donna Ball of Saw Mill Road asked why the town needs any more economic development. She asked how the sewer expansion would actually benefit taxpayers.
Rudy Magnan of 60 Watkins Drive asked how long it would be before any economic development would occur in Hawleyville due to the presence of an expanded sewer system. It may be a “long time” before the town gets any tax benefits, he said.
Mrs Llodra responded that the town would expand the sewer system in the hope of generating economic development due to the presence of sewers.
“We are trying to position Newtown so that we are more competitive,” she said.
Michael Boyle of 44 Watkins Drive questioned why the town should spend money on a sewer system expansion that may not translate into any real benefits for taxpayers. He said it is unlikely that any major corporation would locate in Hawleyville due to the presence of sewers.
Unlike the central sewer system, which started operations in 1997 to resolve longstanding groundwater pollution problems due to failing septic systems, the Hawleyville sewer system started operations in 2001 to stimulate local economic development.
The sewer system expansion would extend sewer mains from 166 Mt Pleasant Road eastward along Mt Pleasant Road to its intersection with Hawleyville Road. The sewer mains also would extend northward along sections of Hawleyville Road and Covered Bridge Road.
Extending sewers deeper into Hawleyville is viewed by town officials as a catalyst for the economic development of four large undeveloped land parcels that lie the general vicinity of the intersection of Hawleyville Road and Mt Pleasant Road.
The WSA is expected to conduct a public information meeting for Hawleyville property owners who would be affected by the sewer system expansion.
The WSA’s goal is to have an expanded sewer system in operation by this fall. The low-pressure sewer system would have a series of grinder pumps installed to channel sewage from individual properties to the sewer mains.