Bruce: Vote no to a ‘big giveaway’

The following is from Henry Bruce, treasurer of WPCA Stratford – Get Answers.

How does selling the Water Pollution Control Authority sewer plant save us money so I “Pay Less?” In the immortal words of Denzel Washington in the Best Picture movie Philadelphia, “please explain this to me like I’m an 8-year-old”. So far the mayor and the “yes” supporters have not made their case. Here is what will happen if we sell:

The BIG giveaway: a $75 million-plus  facility will be sold for only $16 million. We just invested $61 million in 2010 to make the plant state-of-the-art and one of the best water treatment plants in the state.

Our debt obligations increase: Stratford ratepayers will still pay the outstanding bond obligation of $37 million, totaling $754,000 in yearly interest costs. Plus, the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority will borrow the purchase price so Stratford ratepayers will be responsible for another $16 million in additional debt obligations.

Costs increase: Stratford taxpayers will be billed up to $600,000 per year in administrative costs.  Additionally, taxpayers will pay sewer fees to GNHWPCA for all town buildings, including our schools. In addition, the new debt of $16 million for the purchase will double the annual interest payment to over $1.4 million.

Revenues decrease: The payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) Stratford will receive is less than what the WPCA pays now in rent. The Town currently receives $1.38 million from the WPCA for rent, administration and Department of Public Works contractual services.

Our sewer fees increase substantially: Contrary to the mayor’s claims, our rates can go up by 12% each year for the first three years, raising sewer fees to over $600 by 2018. We already saw rates jump over 12% earlier this year to $450.  After 2018, there are no limits to potential increases by GNHWPCA. When our balance sheet gets combined with theirs, we will share their planned bonding debt of $550 million, which is needed to bring their facility up to current clean water standards. How is this paying less?

We lose a profitable asset: We will lose control, forever, of an award-winning plant that has been profitable for the town. This happened before. We lost Sikorsky Airport to Bridgeport and let Housatonic Community College leave too. They are both profitable assets today that would be paying Stratford millions in taxes annually had we kept them.

We lose control of rate setting:  Stratford taxpayers are currently represented on the WPCA board by all 10 Town Council elected officials.  We will only have two appointed representatives (of a total of 11) on the GNHWPCA board. How does two out of 11 board member constitute a controlling voice?

GNHWPCA faces sanctions and Lawsuits:  The GNHWPCA and City of New Haven were sued on Oct. 2 for a variety of violations of the Federal Clean Water Act and State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Environmental Protection Agency water quality standards. The lawsuit will force the GNHWPCA to accelerate their overdue upgrades to their plant that all constituent members of the authority will have to share in funding.

Looks like if we vote yes, we get a whole lot less and pay much more. If we allow the mayor to sell valuable assets at 15 cents on the dollar to plug a budget hole he created, what’s next to be sold to balance our finances? The DPW? Our beautiful shoreline? Our schools? Is that what we want for our proud town to privatize municipal services and put corporate logos on town buildings, schools and coastline? Do you really think the New Haven authority can manage our plant and maintain our sewer lines better than our workers who have done it for decades?

Vote NO on Nov. 3 and tell your elected officials and all the candidates you want fiscally responsible budgets.  It is up to you to hold their feet fire.

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  • Greg Cann

    Straight forward demonstration on the risks of selling Stratford’s sewer treatment plant. Pawning valuable capital assets to plug a short-term budget gap is never a good idea, whether you’re a homeowner, a business or a municipality. Let’s have no sellers remorse – Stratford has successfully operated its WPCA for almost 100 years, we have invested wisely and it is an asset to our community. Keeping the WPCA under Stratford’s ownership assures consistent control over rates and operations.

    Mayor Harkins and our Town Council are accountable for fiscal mismanagement of the current town budget – too many expenses (failed lawsuits, doubling of administrative costs) and not enough revenue (reduction in commercial tax collection, decrease in Stratford’s property values). Our political leaders need to lead with constructive ideas, and stop the fear mongering “sky is falling” diatribes.

  • Sabrina Fair

    When I look at the proposed agreement the amount of the purchase price (Section 3.1) says the purchase price is 11 million – where is the other 5 million coming from?

    • Henry Bruce

      The net purchase price is $11mm but Harlins wants to get his hands immediately on the $5mm cash reserve so they bumped the price to $16mm and then new haven gives us the $5mm but the rate payers get stuck with a bigger debt obligation. Sort of what homeowners do with home loans taking a bigger loan so they get sow instant cash. Real bad managing of finances. Instead of tightening our belts we incur more debt to allow nice to have items on the budget to continue like 27 luxury cars for all the dept heads I town. Terrible fiscal policy at taxpayer expense

      • Greg Cann

        Yup. Harkins takes the $5m paid by ratepayers, and no more capital reserve. Yet, Harkins complains there’s not enough money to fund improvements!? All the while, Harkins patronage exudes to luxury cars for his appointed administrators also rewarded with 30% – 100% salary increases. Duplicitous and nonsensical behavior from our Mayor (former appraiser) Harkins who publicly states “….no one knows how much the sewer plant is worth”. Selling something and you don’t know what is worth? Logic not to be trusted.

        Melvin – you following this? Any of it entice your moral outrage?

      • Frank Parady

        What is the total cost to the taxpayers for those 27 cars?

        • Henry Bruce

          They are leased, but the costs include insurance, fuel, etc. They get a car all expenses paid for by the town for personal and professional use. They also received large salary increases in the 2015 budget cycle. The current budget is full of extravagances like this that total well over $5mm annually. People complain about the Miron years, but if you look at the budgets put forth by Harkins and rubber stamped by the RTC super majority on the Town Council, you see a pattern of paying themselves huge salaries with benefits that started when the Great Recession really took hold for our citizens in 2009-2010. We cannot afford to have this administration to continue unchecked by us and the Town Council. Vote NO and the candidates for TC who Vote No to this sale and to budgets that are about them at taxpayer expense.

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