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Project seems way disproportionate to the problem

02/21/2008

By Brooke Cunningham

We keep getting all these mailings about the benefits of this new municipal water and wastewater system. Lots of details about "how" this will work, but not as clear to "why" this is the only way to go.

First, let's just look at this from a global perspective: cost versus who benefits. The number that has been going around is that this will be at the very least a $17 million project. If you divide the number of properties served (I have been told that number is roughly 75 if everyone signs up) into the cost of the project you get a staggering cost per property served. If you divide cost by the number of homes paying for this service (roughly 1,100 according to the town clerk), our grandchildren will never live to pay it off even though 98 percent of them do not benefit directly or indirectly from the burden. We are told that there are grants, but we don't have any grants yet, and they are getting skinnier by the week.

Then let's look at who really benefits. At first it seemed to me that we were aiming at removing the threat of septic failure in the village right next to the river, which seemed like a good idea. Now it turns out that the only septic protection that we are being offered is not where the river flows by people's back doors, but where the town proposes development. The real winners are the people who own the land in Irasville who would now be able to develop there. As a Realtor though, I can tell you that we don't have people beating down the doors looking for homes above stores. In fact, we simply aren't seeing the kind of people moving here that indicates that we need more homes in the village at all.
 
There are a few stunning omissions in all this information, beginning with the cost of the project. Nobody knows the exact cost of this project, because the only numbers are from the contractors who want the job. The contractors can give whatever "Opinion of Cost" up front that they choose, but once they start digging holes in the ground, they will bill as they see fit and nobody is going to be able to stop them. Ask anyone in Warren what they were told their system would cost, and what it ended up costing. Once Warren village was chewed up there was nothing to do but finish. Even the householder's cost of monthly operation turned out to be substantially higher than people were told before the project started. I spoke to someone in Bristol about his experience during this process, and he told the same story. I guess it is just the nature of the beast.

I also really object to the concept that you will pay your money now to join up because we aren't really sure what might happen to the water table over time and if your system should ever fail it will be enormously expensive to hook up later. I have heard from several people that they signed up because they didn't dare not to. In Warren I dealt with a house where the owner was an elderly person who did not regularly attend to her Vermont mail because she was only here in the summers. She entirely missed the signup date for the system there even though she was on the route. Later she got an estimate of $35,000 to hook into the system even though it was right next door to her house. So there is some truth to it, but it sure doesn't seem right.

Whether we proceed with this or not we have already racked up a $1.4 million tab for investigating this project so far. If we get a proposed grant, that number could be reduced by about half, assuming we get the grant. Then every property owner in town will pay $48 per year for the next five years, and $15 per year for the following 10 years for each $200k of assessment for even considering this project. What if we don't get that grant?

I was told by one person that part of the reason that we need to vote for the bond is so that this debt can be included in the grants for the project. I just don't get the logic here. Are we really supposed to sign up for a minimally $17 million project so that we don't have to pay the tab that the town has run up for considering it? I was also told that we need to do this before the grants dry up but...we don't have any grants. What if we pass this bond and then don't get the grants? We will all be driven out of The Valley by our tax burden as if they aren't bad enough already.
 
If the developers want to put in septic, more power to them, but don't lay it out as debt to our kids. Let the developers pay for it themselves. As for delivering water, can it really be true that the only water requires miles of plumbing and taking land by eminent domain to get to town? There is a lot of land on the other side of Route 100 from the village; surely there is water there.
 
I don't know the answer, but this project seems way disproportionate to the problems.
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