Budget Stories

30Jun15
Taxpayer Alert

Taxpayer Alert

Stratford Residents Deserve Much Better

It is time for every single Stratford resident to become aware of the situation concerning the sale of the Stratford sewer treatment plant.  Once residents become engaged they will inevitably come to the sad conclusion that their elected officials have not represented their best interests.

Again the WPCA aka Town Council voted to increase the Sewer fees to $450 /household with the weak excuse that it is still lower than Trumbull.  In just a few short years Stratford residents have seen their sewer treatment bills go from $280 to $450 – a 61% increase.  Annual sewer rates in Milford are $298.44 and Shelton $198.00; both have sewer facilities and infrastructure needs similar to Stratford.  Common sense says Stratford can do better.  Maybe those Stratford council members hope to push the public to sell the plant – who knows?

A key reason our sewer fees are so much higher is because they are based on grossly inflated costs.  During Mayor Harkins’ tenure the Town Council has decided to charge the WPCA $600,000 for use of the land the treatment plant sits on, $300,000 for bookkeeping and administrative expenses, and $500,000 for public works services.  The effect is to transfer $1.4 million annually from town expenses to sewer expenses.  This means that town residents are now paying higher sewer fees instead of property taxes. The net effect is a second tax on Stratford residents. Your elected representatives may argue that it makes no difference, but remember that property taxes are deductible while sewer fees are not.

Another thing that should concern every Stratford resident is the hundreds of thousands of dollars expended on legal fees. Each year from 2013 – 2016 almost $500,000 has been added to the WPCA budget Contractual Services line that we now learn was for legal expenses. This year the Harkins administration has waged a costly court battle to prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote in a referendum on the sewer sale, and lost every court case and appeal along the way.  Scratch below the surface, it gets worse.  By what authority was that money spent?  Neither the Town Council nor the WPCA voted to authorize the expenditure of these funds.  How can the town or the WPCA proceed with court actions that were never authorized by a vote of the people’s representatives?

It is time that the Harkins administration stood up to protect the residents of Stratford.  Mayor Harkins and his council members are responsible for this mess and must be held accountable. Selling a significant town asset for pennies on the dollar to plug a budget hole is not the solution.  The Town Council should set a date for the people of Stratford to vote on this issue and immediately release all documents so residents can inform themselves.  That is the purest form of democracy, and it is a shame that so much time, effort, and the people’s money has been wasted trying to prevent it from happening.

Stephanie Philips

3rd District Town Council Member

Submitted to Stratford Star, and CT Post.  6/28/2015

 Reprinted here with no edits and no one’s permission.

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19 Responses to “Budget Stories”

  1. 1 jezebel282

    Thank you, Ms. Philips. What a Councilperson should be.

  2. I hope ALL the districts will elect a Council person with the honesty and integrity like yourself. Thank you Stephanie.

  3. 3 jezebel282

    So just to be clear in case the above letter didn’t do it for you:

    There is NO operational, administrative or financial reason to raise sewer rates.

    The reason this mayor and council is raising our sewer rate is because we can’t stop them. Got it?

  4. 4 stfdprofessor1

    “There is NO operational, administrative or financial reason to raise sewer rates.

    The reason this mayor and council is raising our sewer rate is because we can’t stop them. Got it?”

    Geeze…and I thought it was just pure old fashioned revenge.

  5. 5 jezebel282

    Prof,

    “I thought it was just pure old fashioned revenge.”

    You haven’t seen the mill rate yet, have you?

  6. The six Republican councilmen who arbitrarily voted to raise sewer fees by $50 could have just as easily reduced them by the same amount. The problem is that the WPCA has become the new cash cow for the Mayor and the rate had to be higher then the $425/year that the GNHWCPA was supposedly going to charge us if we were stupid enough to join.

  7. 7 hornrims

    The sewer rates have been going up to align with the privatization rates….Interesting point. Residents wouldn’t be able say privatizing increased the rates, the public servants in local government did. Privatize v. government/public-owned….who has your back? Well in this case, look how the town doesn’t! To a resident paying higher fees thanks to the Council and Mayor elected to represent their best interests, maybe a private entity in control of the town’s asset would be a better choice? Now that the rates are in line with GNHWCPA, the usual argument that to privatize (or ‘quasi-regionalize’) will send fees soaring through the roof is a moot point.

    Clever, if the powers that be are actually that smart. They’re certainly that devious, imho.

  8. 8 jezebel282

    Horn,

    The rates are only one component. They can actually come down significantly with a responsible mayor and/or Council.

    Once we sell a $100 million asset for $11 million there is no going back. We also lose any control including millions in future debt as well as the millions in revenue Harkins has been stealing for 5 years. ( Can anyone explain how this theft is allowed to continue?)

    We cannot fathom why this mayor is so insistent for this horrible deal. Is it really ALEC/ACCE? Is there some lobbying position waiting?

    As for the seven weak and stupid Councilmen, well, they are weak and stupid.

  9. 9 jezebel282

    Committee OKs sewer rate hikes
    By Melvin Mason on July 3, 2015
    http://www.stratfordstar.com/37921/committee-oks-sewer-rate-hikes/

    “We said that sewer rates would go high if we didn’t regionalize and they just did tonight,” Harkins said”

    Is that because of the $1,053,449 pension fund line item which is still larger than the payroll? Or maybe it is the $560,000 in legal fees that you alone incurred? Could be it is the $600,000 in “rent” you are charging? It is possible it is the $300,000 you just take from the WPCA. No wait, perhaps it is the $1,638,000 in “Capital Outlay Contingency”?

    In case you’re keeping score, that’s $2,513,449 in expense unrelated to the WPCA. $4,151,449 depending upon the contingency of a capital outlay.

    But no. It’s because we didn’t “regionalize” that our rates are going up, John?

    “Nocera said the national projected average for sewer rates is about $468.”

    Didn’t this guy quit? We sure hope so. WTF does the national average have to do with actual costs here? Since when did the Town of Stratford adopt a “whatever the market will bear” policy?

    But then again, if you have 7 weak and stupid councilmen that will vote for whatever you want, why do you need a justification that makes sense? And lest we forget, they are:

    Gavin Forrester (R)
    Joseph Kubic (R)
    Peter Massey, (R)
    Brian Dempsey, (R)
    Ken Poisson (R)
    James J. Connor, Jr. (R)
    Jason W. Santi (R)

    There that’s better. Now we can remove the pretense. They are ALL Republicans.

  10. 10 stfdprofessor1

    BASTARDS!

  11. 11 hornrims

    I’m guessing right about now the Rs are wishing Santi had held his “the Dem party left me” bull roar until after the election for ‘bipartisan’ purposes.

  12. 12 jezebel282

    Horn,

    I am not convinced that the DTC has a better plan.

    Nonetheless, the RTC Councilmen actually think they are doing a great job. We know, right? Hard to believe. Just as the DTC gave the RTC a gift with Miron, the RTC is returning the favor with Harkins and the go-along Council.

    It is really up to the DTC members to lose the election in November. It is hard to imagine that the RTC could possibly hurt themselves more. But we have faith in the DTC. They will find a way to knock over the silver platter they’ve been handed.

    What we really hope is that a number of Independents show up with plans. A majority of elected independents would go a long way in culling both DTC and RTC party hacks.

  13. 13 hornrims

    “A majority of elected independents would go a long way in culling both DTC and RTC party hacks.” Jezebel, that’s one aspect of what I have been saying: if unaffiliateds/independents step forward, we can finally leave the parties out of it.

    Honestly, if guys like Fredette, Forrester, Fuller and Santi were so disillusioned with the DTC, why wouldn’t they take their professed Democratic values and chart a course maintaining those values without being tied to the DTC or jump disingenuously to the exact opposite positions with the RTC? They could do that as independents and not caucus with either party (….but let’s be serious, that’s not remotely the case with this gaggle of opportunists).

    Does a candidate need the party backing to win an election? Other towns conduct local elections successfully without party affiliation playing a significant role. Signage, canvassing materials, how to manage a campaign – all can be researched and obtained via the internet or through local connections and supporters. And you do not need a ton of money to win at the town level, either.

    I’m suggesting that a decent chance to win in Stratford is made just by running as independent of either party.

  14. 14 jezebel282

    I agree. Just because you run as an independent doesn’t mean you are in George Mulligan’s “party”.

    This may be the time regular voters don’t want to see a “D” or “R” after someone’s name

  15. 15 jezebel282

    Update:

    Almost everyone has gotten their new sewer fee statement (It’s not a tax, remember?) already. The Town wastes no time when it comes to billing residents.

    This is reported in another uncritical article by the Star.

    Committee OKs sewer rate hikes

    By Melvin Mason on July 3, 2015

    The Water Pollution Control Authority Committee, comprised of town councilors, voted 6-2 last Thursday to increase the annual rate for customers to $450 per household, an increase of $50. The rate for business customers will be $5.25 per unit, up from the 2014-15 rate of $4.67.
    The WPCA Committee had originally considered raising the residential rate to $460 per household and $5.36 per unit for commercial customers. The change came after Tenth District Councilman Paul Hoydick said a $60 increase would be too much for residents.
    http://www.stratfordstar.com/37921/committee-oks-sewer-rate-hikes/

    Really? A $60 unnecessary increase was too much, but a $50 unnecessary increase was just right? Why not try lowering it by $150-$250? You know, where it should be.

    “Mayor John Harkins said after the meeting that the vote proved his statement that sewer fees would rise without regionalization.”

    “Proved”? What did it prove? Oh right, that Harkins blew a ton of money on Pullman & Comley and had 6 weak and stupid Councilmen that would vote for anything.

    In another article which actually contained some statements that weren’t pro-Harkins:

    “Waste treatment vote set for November
    By John Burgeson
    Published 6:20 pm, Monday, July 6, 2015
    http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Waste-treatment-vote-set-for-November-6369147.php

    STRATFORD — The issue of whether the town will sell or keep its waste treatment plant at the foot of Birdseye Street will appear on the ballot when voters go to the polls on November 3.

    But don’t expect to hear much campaigning for or against it this summer.

    “We really won’t be able to begin the campaign in earnest until we see the wording of the ballot question,” said Harold Watson, who spearheaded the petition drive that succeeded in putting the question before the voters. “For example, we can’t buy a billboard saying ‘Vote No’ when — depending on how the question is worded — we should be telling people to ‘Vote Yes.’
    The exact wording won’t be decided until the fall by the Town Council’s Ordinance Committee and the town attorney’s office. Then, it will have to be approved by Secretary of State Denise W. Merrill.”

    This is probably a good thing. Leaving the wording to Tim Bishop and the eight little councilmen would probably produce something no voter would possibly understand.

    But we think there will be plenty of campaigning about the WPCA before November. All kinds of numbers along with doom and gloom will come out of Town Hall. It has begun even within the same article; “Town Hall maintains that the sale will net town $16 million — $11 million in cash and $5 million from the Water Pollution Control Authority’s cash reserves — and the removal of $37 million in debt from a previous upgrade…Harkins said that without the sale, the town will be digging deep into its cash reserves.”

    Umm…what cash reserves? Where are they listed in the budget? Is that like a surplus? Are they a secret? Where did it come from? Oh right! It came from us, but now it’s a secret.

    “Meanwhile, the Town Council has increased annual household sewer fees to raise some much-needed cash. The old fee was $400; the new one is $450…this will bring in about $1 million from private homes alone.”

    Wait! What? “Much needed cash”? Didn’t Harkins just say there there was $5 million in cash reserve at the WPCA? He needs $6 million now? Or did he just admit to illegally transferring funds from the WPCA for Town operations?

  16. 16 jezebel282

    And who, exactly, voted to raise your sewer fee and tax?

    Gavin Forrester (R)
    Joseph Kubic (R)
    Brian Dempsey, (R)
    Ken Poisson (R)
    Jason W. Santi (R)
    Paul Hoydick (R)

    (Massey and Connor were no-shows)

  17. 17 stfdprofessor1

    “Proved”? What did it prove? Oh right, that Harkins blew a ton of money on Pullman & Comley and had 6 weak and stupid Councilmen that would vote for anything.

    Pullman & Comley aren’t the only ones getting blown around here at taxpayer expense with votes from the town clowncil (are they “John”?)

  18. 18 appalledandamused

    “I think that the Republicans will still have the majority,” (glad to know what he really cares about) he said. “This year, a lot of people have seen their taxes go down, and that’s what my constituents have asked me to do.” ….meanwhile, their sewer bill rate just hit a new high for no good reason.

    “As for the waste treatment issue, Poisson says that there’s no other realistic alternative but to sell the plant.” — Ken Poisson, as quoted in the CT Post, July 8.

    At this point, I have mushrooms growing in my yard that could beat Poisson and Forrester. Poor Lou, his fiefdom is crumbling.

  19. 19 jezebel282

    You see?

    These RTC automatons actually think we will believe them when they tell us how good selling our assets for peanuts and raising our rates are for us. If only we were as smart as they are. Poor us.


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