The Johnston Town Council unanimously approved a request from Mayor Joseph Polisena to raise sewer maintenance fees, including a $40 hike for two- to four-family homes, during its Aug. 13 meeting.
Polisena told the Sun Rise during an interview at his office last week that the town has not raised its sewer fee since 2011. The mayor considers the fee to be nominal compared to the costs other towns charge, such as ones at the lower end of the spectrum like South Kingstown ($280) and Smithfield ($345), according to comparisons from town solicitor William Conley.
“For years and years and years, nobody looked at any of the sewer issues in town, it was neglected,” Polisena said. “We come along and it gets thrown in our lap, which is fine, so we set up a sewer maintenance fee and I know we went back and forth with DEM. I was looking at the cheapest way to put a fee on, so we went $110.”
The fee was paid in two, $55 installments over the course of the year. The figure for two- to four-family homes will increase from $110 to $150, while five- to 12-unit dwellings will go from $300 to $500. Buildings with 12-plus units tripled from $500 to $1,500, while commercial units went from $150 to $500. Industrial saw the largest jump, going from $325 to $1,500. The mayor said the town has “issues with industrial people dumping in the sewer line.”
Polisena said there are some offenders who have not paid their sewer fees since its institution in 2011, noting their homes will soon go up for tax sale. The disparity in those who not pay sewer fees creates a shortfall in the sewer enterprise fund, he said, a hole that has to be fixed with town money.
“So we raised the fees,” the mayor said. “Quite frankly, I take umbrage with the fact people haven’t paid their original sewer [fee] since 2011, and they’re basically thumbing their nose at the rest of the people who are paying, so we are going to have a tax sale and there are many people on the tax sale list that will be getting a letter and they will be getting notified and they’ll read their name in the paper.”
Polisena said the fund covers issues with the sewer lines, including blockages and daily flushes. He also noted a recent Environmental Protection Agency mandate to purchase a portable generator should one of the town’s pumping stations fail.
Polisena said the town has found everything from baseballs and slippers to mop heads and baby wipes clogging the sewer lines.
“We had to do GIS [geographic information system] mapping so we know where all the sewer lines are,” he said. “We had to install all receptacles to connect to an emergency generator, so the pumping station didn’t have the special pump, we had to put the special pump so they can just plug it in. We did it to all our pumping stations, at $300 a pop times 10 or 12 pumping stations.”
As for those who are delinquent on their sewer maintenance fee payments, Polisena said they “are in for a rude awakening.” He said doesn’t want residents coming to Town Hall asking to have their interest and penalties waived either.
“We don’t want to hear excuses like the dog ate the bill, I never got the bill, because the bill goes to the same property as the tax bill goes,” he said. “And I ask them, don’t insult me, and I won’t insult them … Some people will say, ‘I never got the bill,’ but then the ladies will check and say, ‘Well, wait a minute. You made two payments in 2013, how’d you never get the bill?’”
Polisena noted that he lives on a septic system, and that he and his neighbors are footing the bill for a service to which they do not have access. It only adds to his ire over those who do not pay their fees.
“It’s not fair that they don't pay and everyone else pays,” Polisena said. “They just don’t pay it. Some people will say, ‘I never got the bill,’ and then we’ll go, ‘Wait a minute, in 2012, you paid the bill’ … We have to maintain the sewer line, and the people who obviously have sewers are fortunate, because a lot of people have septic systems and they have to use their water very cautiously and they have to worry about the septic system failing and so forth.”