Ridgefield sewer fees increase

Flushing isn’t free. And in central Ridgefield’s sewer district, clean water — which is what a renovated sewer treatment plant buys — is costing more.

“Sewer rates are going up,” Tax Collector Jane Berendsen-Hill told the Board of Finance on Tuesday night, Aug. 20. “They’re going up about 60 percent for the year.”

The price for a single sewer use unit — what a single family home hooked into the town sewer system would pay — has gone from $470 a year to $750 a year, she said.

The 60 percent increase will also apply to the commercial and multi-family buildings that use more than one sewer unit.

“For everybody, it’s a 60 percent increase from where they were,” Berendsen-Hill said.

Berendsen-Hill said that the original projection of the rate increase to help finance the town’s state-mandated $48-million sewer project had been “for a doubling over a five-year period” — which would take sewer fees from $470 to $940 a year by 2024-25.

The rate increase took effect with the July 1 start of the 2019-20 fiscal year. It effects homes and business properties on the town’s District I sewer system, which serves the village and central Ridgefield commercial and residential areas.

Plant renovation

Voters approved a $48-million sewer renovation project last November, and the bids on renovation of the District I wastewater treatment plant off South Street — the bulk of the project — came in higher than anticipated. The town accepted a low bid of $37.7 million for the plant renovation, which was originally projected to coast about $33 million.

The remaining aspect of the $48 million project — still to be put out to bid — involves the closing-down the District II sewer plant that serves businesses around the intersection of Route 7 and Route 35, and the laying of pipe and building of a pump station to get that area’s effluent to the South Street plant for treatment. This approach is expected to save on operating costs in the long run, as there will be no need to staff a second plant.

“Yes, rates are going up, with a jump in this year to help provide a less steep annual increase in rates in future years,” said Amy Siebert, chairwoman of the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA), which oversees the sewer system.

The increasing rates would be “covering the cost to perform the major upgrade needed and required at South Street, as well as addressing Route 7,” she said.

“The rate structure must be looked at annually with respect to actual and anticipated operating and capital expenses,” Siebert said, “and the WPCA hopes to see rate increases in future years be in the single digits, preferably on the lower end of that spectrum. Again, this is dependent upon operating and capital budget needs and is determined annually.

“Water and wastewater utilities across the country are seeing rates increase as they perform the important and necessary upgrades to provide us with clean water — whether for drinking or when discharging it into local waters that support our watersheds and the environment,” Siebert said.

Grant status

Finance board member Dick Moccia — who is the Republican candidate for first selectman — asked about the status of the $11 million grant from the state that is expected to reduce local cost for the $48 million project to about $37 million. The town had June 30 deadline to get contracts on the plant renovation signed, in order to qualify for the grant.

“We did absolutely everything to fulfill the requirements,” Berendsen-Hill said.

She said the state Bonding Commission had approved a major bond issue expected to cover clean water projects in towns around the state— including Ridgefield’s. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will oversee the distribution of the funds to various local projects.

Finance board Chairman Dave Ulmer assured fellow board members that they needn’t worry about the state not coming through with the $11 million grant.

“They’d have to renege on their prior commitment,” Ulmer said. “It’s not something that needs to be approved in the future — it’s something they would be reneging on.”