Most taxpayers have little or no interest in municipal sewers, unless they stop working. But the Board of Finance has approved funding the construction phase of a Hawleyville sewer extension that is expected to serve as a catalyst for significant economic development in the area.
That prospect could provide measurable relief for residential taxpayers if large-scale commercial developments expected to tie into that new sewer extension help offset residential taxation in the coming years.
At a 45-minute presentation by Public Works Director Fred Hurley on January 23, during which he formally requested a $2.8 million appropriation designated for that project in the Capital Improvement Plan, the public works head reviewed a benefit assessment that identifies the potential cost to owners of properties that would be tied into the sewer.
“We did two things — we did an estimate on those properties a year ago. Then we came back with a professional appraisal indicating those overall estimates were correct. The appraiser also went a step further, identifying what the benefit assessment might be for each parcel,” Mr Hurley told The Bee following the meeting.
The bottom line, Mr Hurley explained, is the town can move forward with a significantly scaled down project and still have more than enough capacity to serve the maximum anticipated use of eventual commercial centers that could be developed on a handful of key parcels at or near the intersection of Routes 6 and 25.
“As I related to the board, we can capture 80 percent of the development at half the cost,” Mr Hurley said of the rescoped low pressure system. That low pressure system with its estimated $2.5 million cost was deemed appropriate, versus the gravity system that was originally proposed with a price of about $5 million.
Built as proposed, the low pressure system would still incorporate more than enough capacity to handle the demands of a 300,000-square-foot commercial office park or similar development, Mr Hurley told the board. It also provides a measure of flexibility for owners of parcels who were not assessed, but who might want to tie into the sewer system at a later date.
The public works chief told the board that only three or four parcels represent 80 percent of the total assessed value. He also explained that the new system would not extend as far as originally planned up Route 25 toward Brookfield, but the town would only sacrifice approximately $1 million in additional assessments on the smaller, limited number of commercial parcels involved.
“The town would give up about $1 million in current assessed value, but save $2.5 million in construction costs,” Mr Hurley said.
And he said while trenching the project, additional piping could be installed to accommodate new users or a greater capacity for demand in the future.
Mr Hurley and First Selectman Pat Llodra, who was on hand, both discussed the imminent need for the project, saying its expedited installation could spur offers on certain properties being eyed for large-scale commercial development in the area. With that in mind, Mr Hurley said he would like to see “pipes in the ground during the 2014 construction season.”
He said another advantage to the lower cost, low pressure system would be a faster installation. Bringing down the overall cost to both the town and its potential assessed users helps to make the developable parcels more attractive to commercial tenants, and gives Newtown more of a competitive edge in trying to attract commercial development.
Mrs Llodra referred to the large open Hawleyville parcels as the last developable sites along the Interstate 84 corridor between Waterbury and the New York state line.
“If we want to grow the commercial portion of our grand list, we have to do this,” Mrs Llodra told the finance board. “The absence of development is because we do not have sewers.”
Mrs Llodra added that Newtown “knows how not to grow — we have had a lot of practice at it.” And she recommended the finance board approve the rescoped project as proposed.
Mr Hurley said once final construction costs are calculated, he would come back to the board to relate the final assessments for each potential user.
The motion to fund the construction phase of the sewer extension passed unanimously.