After seeking legal advice on the issue, the Montville Township Committee learned that the township is able to lower the fee it charges new users to connect to the municipal sewer system. The question committee members are now considering is whether lowering the fee would be fair to existing users.
There is still information to be gathered on the topic before committee members make a decision to either lower the fee or approve the 2013 fee at the proposed $6,628 for sewer and $3,752 for water connection. Committee members began discussing the issue in 2012 after Committeeman Scott Gallopo said he would like the committee to look into whether the fee was able to be lowered. Gallopo said he noticed neighboring communities imposing much lower fees.
A sewer connection fee is not the charge for utilization of service, rather the fee a user pays for the privilege to hook up to the municipal sewer system. When a new user signs on for service and pays the fee, essentially, their contribution goes toward the development of sewer system infrastructure which existing customers had previously contributed to as well. Charging the fee is a way to ensure new customers have contributed to using the same system existing users had.
"We were led to believe that there was no wiggle room with this connection fee by state statute," Gallopo said "There's not only flexibility but the state statute established a formula to prevent municipalities from gouging their residents."
The formula comes with an included cap and Montville has been charging at cap for a number of years. Last month, committee members sought an explanation for why the township had been charging at the maximum cost allowed. Township Administrator Victor Canning said at the Jan. 8 committee meeting that, in speaking with the township's Department of Public Works supervisor, township officials have chosen to charge at the rate that was allowed under the statute.
In an email to Canning included in committee members' materials, DPW Supervisor Tom Mazzacarro explained that the connection fee does include debt service. He also noted that Montville has 12 sewer stations and 16 water stations and that the large size of the township's utilities should be considered when comparing to other towns.
Canning said it was up to the committee members to decide whether they wanted to lower the fee, but weighed in on the issue. He said the township has limited potential for future development and that he does not anticipate a large number of people looking to connect into the sewer system. Still, he implied that perhaps the fees should be lowered.
"With the economy, I'm reluctant to leave [the fees] be," he said.
Committeeman Jim Sandham said he would like to see different calculations provided to the committee based on varying points of included debt service. Commiteewoman Deborah Nielson asked if lowering the fee would expose the township committee to potential litigation from those who were forced to pay a higher fee before the change.
"I don't think you have exposure, it's just a question of fairness," Township Attorney Martin Murphy said.
Until more information can be gathered, 2012 connection fee rates have be frozen and held over.