CHATHAM TOWN OFFICIALS FAIL TO COME CLEAN ON SEWER COSTS: $2,600 OR $175 PER YEAR FOR AVERAGE HOMEOWNER?
Chatham’s town officials, despite repeated requests, have not published detailed information about the cost of the centralized sewer system they are proposing, although Dr. Robert Duncanson, who is in charge of the project under Town Manager William Hinchey, told a Cape Cod Times reporter this past week (Cape Cod Times, December 7, 2009) that over 20 years it would only cost the average homeowner $3,500 or $175 a year on average.
For a $200-$300 million project, that is an unbelievable statement. It is a shame that town officials have not published detailed information to substantiate that claim -- but then, they could not. They should publish the real information in full detail so taxpayers will know what town officials are planning for them to pay. The financial information about taxpayer costs in the Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan posted on the town's website is also inaccurate, incomplete and not credible.
In the absence of any credible estimates of the true cost to taxpayers of the proposed centralized sewer, Chatham Concerned Taxpayers did its own calculation of costs based on publicly available information and common engineering assumptions and the best financing arrangements currently available from the state, e.g., 30 year terms, level payment, 2%.
For those getting sewers in so-called Phase 1 (about two-thirds of all residential properties) the average homeowner cost over 20 years will be about $52,000, not $3,500. Their average annual cost will be about $2,600 or $217 a month over a 20-year period. Payments will continue for 30 more years until all the debt incurred to finance the project is paid. The total financed cost of this property would be about $76,109.
For those not getting a sewer at this time, the average homeowner cost over 20 years will be approximately $30,000, not $3,500. That’s about $1,500 a year on average, not $175 or $125 a month over the same 20-year period. The 50-year cost would be $54,768.
All told, the 50-year cost of the centralized sewer will approach if not exceed half a billion dollars. (Our calculations did not include any so-called "cost escalation" that is almost inevitable in long-term projects, of which Boston's Big Dig is a prime example.)
If Phase 2 is ever done to sewer those parts of town that don't need to be sewered for nitrogen reduction purposes, costs for everyone would be higher still (unless a betterment approach were taken for these properties since they aren't required to be sewered to help keep town waters healthy).
Under the EPA affordability guidelines, for about half the households in Chatham the sewer charge should be no more than $83 a month. The centralized sewer doesn't pass the test.
It seems inevitable that people of modest means will be driven out of Chatham with these unnecessarily high sewer costs being a major factor..
We all want to clean excess nitrogen out of Chatham’s coastal waters.
Using alternatives to centralized sewers such as cluster systems could cut those costs in half.
We want town officials to do what’s best for Chatham’s taxpayers and take those cost effective alternatives into account.
Town officials failed to get stimulus money from the program they originally targeted, but were able to secure about that much from a USDA loan/grant program.
Ironically, the vote for the wastewater treatment plant bond issue of $60 million rushed through at the May town meeting so the town could seek to qualify for stimulus money by becoming shovel ready by February 17, 2010 became meaningless: Chatham coujldn't meet the conditions and federal officials dropped the February 17 deadline from the program anyway
While the need to rush ahead before taxpayers have a chance to understand the Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan, learn about cheaper alternatives to a centralized sewer and what all the costs might be has vanished, town officials are still pressing on with apparently no intention to provide credible financial information to taxpayers or put the plan and alternatives to a town meeting vote.
We still have the same question we had when we first had about the monumental cost of the centralized sewer that town officials had chosen to deal with the excess nitrogen problems: "Isn't there a less expensive way to do it?"
We've learned there are several, but town officials have no interest in learning about them or testing them out, as other Cape towns are doing. Taxpayers will be the losers to the tune of $100 million to $200 million.