The Block Island Times
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Water and sewer departments to chase delinquent ratepayers

By Lars Trodson | Mar 23, 2014

The Water and Sewer Commissions, at their joint meeting on Monday, March 17, voted to take a much less lenient approach to businesses and individuals that are chronically late in paying their bills.

The recommendation came from Town Finance Director Amy Land, who asked the members of the commissions to enforce the town’s “collection policy all the way to the end. We haven’t gone this far in quite some time.” Land also gave the commissioners a gentle warning: “You should know there may be some unhappy customers.”

Land said that it was basically unfair to let some customers slide when it came to paying their bills, while others pay on time. “I think you have an obligation to your ratepayers,” she said.

“We also have an obligation to follow our rules,” said Water District Commission Vice Chair Brad Marthens.

“We’ve played nice and it hasn’t been working,” said Land, who added that other payment options had been pursued with these specific customers, which number about a dozen. She said that short-term payment options should be made available for these customers to get caught up.

“There are people on that list who will never have the ability to catch up,” said Sewer Commissioner Wayne Battey. “That’s fact.”

Alternate Member Alan MacKay suggested offering some sort of one-time amnesty payments that would satisfy the overall bill.

“You could do that,” said Land.

“But we have to be careful about setting precedent,” said Marthens. In the end, the commissioners agreed that delinquent customers should speak to Marthens or Sewer Commission Chair Pete McNerney if they have questions about their payment options.

Town Council update

Four members of the Town Council — First Warden Kim Gaffett, Second Warden Ken Lacoste, Norris Pike and Gary Ryan — received an update from Town Engineer Jim Geremia on past projects and on how best to proceed with a proposed three-year plan for projects and upgrades to the town’s sewer systems.

Geremia said that the entire Ocean Avenue 1 (OA1) force main on Ocean Avenue has been replaced, as has the OA2 force main pipe. A by-pass piping project and new safety equipment at OA2, the Boat Basin and at Champlins Marina Pump Station is scheduled to be completed by this spring.

Geremia said that the cost of these three projects was $401,970 and that $330,720 of that is eligible for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants or loans.

There are several projects planned for upgrades to the town’s wastewater treatment plant. The contract for the first, reroofing the Sludge Building, has been awarded to Battey Construction at $15,200.

Reconditioning and rewiring the belt filter press will cost an estimated $166,280. “The solids we take out to the landfill are the by-product of the treatment and we have to de-water it with the belt filter press,” said Geremia. This work is scheduled to begin in the middle of May and be completed by Memorial Day, Geremia said. “The press will be up and running with all new parts,” Geremia said.

The remaining balance of $446,040 will be used for improvements at the Treatment Facility, including: installation of a new Chemical Feed Building; mechanical improvements to the Blower Building (ventilation); a plant water booster pump replacement; upgrades to the SCADA computer system (to better control the chlorination system); re-roofing the Blower Building (no upgrade since the 1970s) and installation of the emergency generator connection at all four remote pump stations.

Three year plan

Geremia then updated the two commissions and the councilors on the next phase of the Wastewater Treatment Plant improvements, which have been budgeted at $3.1 million. He said that the USDA provides funding that is 80 percent loans and 20 percent grants, and also said the USDA is recommending that “the town propose some projects in the million dollar range.”

The reason for the council’s presence, said Sewer Chair Pete McNerney, was to “get them updated as early as possible so they can digest it.” Some of the cost of these projects will be presented to New Shoreham taxpayers in the form of bond issues at the Financial Town Meeting in May.

The projects range from upgrades to the sludge dewatering facility (at $799,260); electrical and structural upgrades to the Operations Building ($514,800); new equioment ($128,150); force main replacement at four locations ($748,060) and others. Geremia had grouped the projects into two categories, Priority One and Priority Two.

When McNerney mentioned that he was looking for town support on these projects, Gaffett asked what was meant by town support. “Everyone of us [town councilors] can support this in concept, but you need to have the details,” Gaffett said.

Marthens said town support was needed in some fashion because “it’s not fair to go to the ratepayers for everything.”

When McNerney said that the “whole island benefits” from upgrades to its water treatment facilities, Gaffett said that while that perhaps was true “philosophically, once you’ve got the facilities up and running, it’s the users that benefit from the upgrades.”

Gaffett asked if the list of projects could be categorized in a slightly different way to separate the maintenance upgrades from the cosmetic to get a better sense of what would be sent to the voters, and after some give and take with the commissioners, Geremia said he would try to provide that.

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