An urgent message from Greg Kabasakalian, Ridgefield Board of Finance

Public Hearing & Special Town Meeting Wednesday 10-20-2021

On Wednesday October 20th, the Board of Selectmen will hold a Public Hearing & Special Town Meeting at 7:30PM in the auditorium at Veterans Park Elementary School. The purpose of this Public Hearing & Special Town Meeting is to discuss and vote on the proposed allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the purpose of partially funding the construction of a Route 7 Pumping Station-Sewer Forced Main and connection to the South Street Sewer plant. The amount requested is not to exceed $2,922,477.

 

In preparation for Wednesday night’s Hearing and Meeting, I hope to shed some light on the matter and urge you to attend, make your voices heard, and to vote. Wednesday evening will be your only opportunity to participate in this critical Town issue.

 

What is ARPA?

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was signed into law in March 2021 with the intent to provide Coronavirus (COVID-19) related relief and economic stimulus. Specific to Ridgefield, we received our first payment of $3,693,315 on June 22, 2021. The use of ARPA funds is complicated, but all agree that the funds can be used for Lost Revenue, Police, Fire, Schools, and Infrastructure related costs. Our current fiscal year’s budget has allocated $1.5M equally to the Police, Fire, and the Highway departments.

 

The Sewer Project:

In 2018, the Town approved a $48M Referendum to replace the South Street Wastewater Treatment Facility (WWTF) and to decommission the Route 7 plant and replace it with a Pumping Station-Forced Main and connect to the South Street facility. The $48M breaks down as follows:

 

  • CT DEEP Clean Water Fund Loan    $28,500,000

  • CT DEEP Clean Water Fund Grant   $11,500,000

  • Town of Ridgefield 20 Year Bond     $  8,000,000

                                                            $48,000,000

 

Please note, the $28.5M resulted in a dramatic escalation of the Sewer Use Fees ($440 in 2017, $812 in 2021, $1,025 in 2022) for approximately 4,300 customers. The cost of the $8M Bond is shared by all Taxpayers as it did factor into the Mill Rate.

The Route 7 Project:

Phase 1 of the project, the South Street replacement, has been underway for some time. Bids for Phase 2, Route 7, were received in May 2021. The bids came in substantially higher than originally anticipated due to the current Pandemic economic environment (Supply Chain limitations, lack of available workforce, and overall inflationary conditions). Generally, everything has gone up in price or is unavailable. Have you purchased gas lately? Have you seen the paper goods aisle in Stop & Shop? The lowest bid received was from M&O Construction for $8,328,280, 40% more than expected.

All that aside, the costs associated with the Route 7 project has driven up the overall project by $7,422,477. These costs break down as follows:

 

  • Total Cost of the Project         $55,422,477

  • 2018 Approved Referendum  $48,000,000

  • Project Shortfall                      $7,422,477

How to Cover the Project Shortfall:

  • Cash (a.k.a. WPCA Fund Balance)    $4,500,000

  • Use of ARPA Funds                           $2,922,477                                                           

 

It should be noted, the WPCA maintains Cash in a Fund Balance. The cash in the Fund Balance is the result of un-used money from collected Sewer Use Fees. The WPCA does maintain emergency cash in the event of a catastrophic failure of the WWTF. I think we can all agree that the facility must function 24x7, 365 days per year, and failure is not an option. The current Fund Balance is projected to have about $6.2M, before the WPCA’s Cash contribution of $4.5M to the South Street project overage. That would leave the WPCA with about $1.7M in the Fund Balance.

 

The Bottom Line:

You need to attend Wednesday’s Public Hearing & Special Town Meeting whether you agree with, or oppose, using $2.9M of Ridgefield’s ARPA money to cover the overage costs of the Route 7 Sewer project. Rest assured; the DTC has once again politicized this issue. They have issued a call to arms and vilified the two lone Republicans who voted against this measure and made claims that the Democrats will once again save Ridgefield.

 

The facts are simple. Should ARPA money be used for this project? How much ARPA money should be used? What are the alternatives? What happens if Ridgefield exhausts it’s ARPA money and COVID related issues arise this fall or winter? I can assure you that none of these questions were answered when raised by your Republican representatives. But did you ever meet a Dem that didn’t love to spend your money with no regard for your opinion? So please, show up Wednesday evening. Voice your opinions and concerns. Vote as you see fit. But realize, if you do not, our one-party Town will continue to conduct their business as usual.

 

 

Greg Kabasakalian

Board of Finance