By JOHN HOWELL The letters from Mayor Frank Picozzi went in the mail Friday, and by Monday some residents of Governor Francis Farms were blinking to make sure what they were reading was for real. Without an explanation of how it would be done, Picozzi
The letters from Mayor Frank Picozzi went in the mail Friday, and by Monday some residents of Governor Francis Farms were blinking to make sure what they were reading was for real.
Without an explanation of how it would be done, Picozzi sent letters to property owners included in the Governor Francis 3, O’Donnell Hill and a small portion of Bayside sewer projects that they would receive a 35 percent reduction in their assessments.
In the case of GF3 residents, the reduction will cut assessments from $24,400 to $16,000.
The news was elatedly greeted.
“The mayor did a great job with this. The [Warwick Sewer Authority Board] did the heavy lifting met with anybody and everybody about [the sewer assessments],” Ward 1 Councilman William Foley said.
Foley said the high cost of the Governor Farms assessments was on the top of his list of issues and that he met with Picozzi shortly after the election to talk to him about it. He said Picozzi told him he would work on it.
“He is not going to mince words or blow smoke,” Foley said of the mayor.
But how did the administration pull off such a dramatic reduction in assessments?
Foley didn’t have the details, nor did Councilman Ed Ladouceur of Ward 5, where a few homes in Riverview just over the Mill Cove Bridge on Tidewater Drive received sewers in the past three years.
“They got screwed,” Ladouceur said of the assessments levied those constituents.
“I believe Frank [Picozzi] is 110 percent behind getting control of the Sewer Authority and getting the numbers down. He just didn’t pull these numbers out of the sky.”
Ladouceur believes people in Bayside will be “very happy” to hear the news. Bayside sewers have been talked about and been on the drawing boards for more than 20 years. The most recent plan, projected to cost $19 million, was thought to cost property owners more than $25,000 in assessments on the assumption that the project would exceed the contract. With this development, Ladouceur is hopeful assessments could be less than $20,000 and even lower.
Picozzi said federal funding did not play a role in lowering assessments. However, he added that American Rescue Plan funding could be used for Bayside and would help to reduce assessments for an estimated 900 landowners when a project is completed. The Bayside plan is being revised to minimize the disturbance to Native American archeological features by combining the installation of sewers with replacement of an aging water system.
City Finance Director Peder Schaefer credits Jason Parmelee, who serves as city controller and Sewer Authority controller, with the research leading to the conclusion that the authority has the resources to cover the 35 percent cut in projected assessment revenues for the three projects.
Parmelee explained under the former means of levying assessments, property owners were charged on the basis of their linear foot frontage to the sewer. That per-foot method was deemed unfair by a commission Ladouceur founded, and with council and legislative approval, a unit system (the cost of a system divided by the number of property owners benefiting) was instituted.
What Parmelee found is that while that fairly distributed the cost, it did not take into account that user fees had helped underwrite the prior system. Digging into the numbers, he realized that the authority had retired significant debt and that going forward revenues would exceed expenses.
“This is a fairness check,” Parmelee said of those impacted under the new unit system of assessment.
He said that historically before the new assessment system homeowners “always got a break, and why not give them a break?”
Furthermore, Parmelee points out that sewer operational costs do not increase in proportion to an increase in users. As more users tie into sewers, the system actually performs better with a reduction in chemicals and mechanical failures. He is hopeful the authority won’t need to increase operational fees as well.
“We don’t want to overcharge anyone,” he said.
In his letter, Picozzi said there would be follow-up information on how the reduced assessment would be applied.
Sewer Authority Director Betty Anne Rogers credited the board with the assessment reduction. The board is expected to review revisions in applying assessments at its meeting tonight.