|By Katelyn Gendron|
Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM Last Tuesday the City Council enacted one of two proposed ordinances to further the construction of the greatly anticipated Sewer Extension Project in Feeding Hills.
The council voted 10 to zero -- Councilor Jill Simpson was absent -- in favor of the ordinance establishing an "Enterprise Fund" for wastewater operation. The second ordinance, which will establish a "Special Sewer Improvement District" was passed by a vote of nine to one -- Robert Rossi voted in opposition -- and moved to a second of three readings.
John Stone, superintendent of Public Works, said the two ordinances are necessary to establish a method of funding for the $31.2 million, 18.2-mile sewer extension into Feeding Hills. Under the previous administration, Mayor Richard Cohen called the project a necessary endeavor for the residents who have failing septic systems.
Stone explained that as of 2004, the sewer use charge is $2 for every 100 cubic feet of water consumed and would therefore require each household to pay $4,352 out of a total cost of $24,046 per unit for the sewer extension.
"The sewer rate payer obviously cannot absorb the impact of such a major project nor can the property tax," Stone wrote in a letter to Cohen last year.
Stone said the new ordinances before the council will make the cost of $19,650 per household to be paid in installments over 20 years. The new legislation would also increase the sewer use charge between 70 and 85 cents, he added.
Stone explained that the purpose of the enterprise fund will be to aid the town in paying for expenses for the project, interest payments and debt through wastewater operation revenues.
Stone said the "mechanisms" for funding must be put in place by the City Council for the residents of Feeding Hills to review prior to any further action.
Rossi said he has concerns about the Sewer Extension Project because the cost-benefit might be too high for residents. "I'm deeply concerned that we will place an undo burden on some of those people up there [in Feeding Hills]," he said.
Rossi said more research and resident education must take place before he can be fully comfortable with the project.
He voiced other concerns about the homeowner's financial obligations for the project such as hookups to the sewer system and the seller's responsibility for remaining payments when a home in Feeding Hills is sold.
City Councilor Joseph Mineo, chair of the Ad Hoc Sewer Committee, said at his next committee meeting -- Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Agawam Public Library -- members will be discussing how to proceed with educating the residents about the project. Suggestions have included informational flyers, letters or information posted on the town's Web site in order for residents to understand the need for the project and their financial responsibilities.
Mayor Susan Dawson said at least one public hearing must be conducted in order to "get the word out" and "meet with the people who are affected." She added that she is concerned that the town's economy will never fully develop if the sewers are not built.
"All the residents are underserved the way that it is," Dawson said.
Further discussion of the Sewer Extension Project will take place at the Ad Hoc Sewer Committee meeting on Jan. 31 and at the next City Council meeting on Feb. 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Agawam Middle School auditorium.