East Bethel to require businesses in sewer district to connect

The East Bethel City Council April 3 adopted amendments to the city’s water and sewer ordinance, setting Dec. 31 as the date which 14 businesses in the city’s sewer district must connect to the system and also exempting existing residential properties from mandatory connection.

Councilmembers Tom Ronning and Robert DeRoche voted against the amendments.

According to a memo from City Administrator Jack Davis, requiring the businesses in the district to pay their connection fees in 2013 will result in a projected bond payment deficit of $91,376 for this year. Not collecting those fees in 2013 would result in a projected deficit of up to $412,873. He said 2014 will be different because hopefully by then there will be revenue from new development that will lower the projected deficit for that year.

The vote on the amendments was preceded by a lengthy discussion following a motion by Ronning to suspend all amendments to the city’s water and sewer ordinance until after the city produces and distributes information making residents better aware of the potential impact of the new water and sewer system.

“I am absolutely convinced that the vast majority of this community does not know… about what’s going on, what the city’s facing,” he said.

Ronning also said he’s been asking the council for two years to provide residents with an understandable summary of the sewer system’s potential impact.

“We have gone over this many times and we have had open houses many times to inform residents what’s going on,” said Mayor Richard Lawrence. “We have discussed this many times openly. We have worked very hard to make sure they knew.”

Councilmember Heidi Moegerle expressed concern about not moving forward with the amendments that would set a date for mandatory connection to the sewer system. She suggested that the effort Ronning would like to see to better inform residents could be made simultaneously with the ordinance amendments.

“Why can’t we get this done at the same time? Because if we can get this done, we can move forward with getting connections to pay for it,” Moegerle said. “We’re looking at an excess of $400,000 we’re going to cost those residents if we don’t get them [the businesses in the sewer district] hooked up by the end of the year. I don’t want to play with $420,000.”

Ronning’s motion to suspend making any amendments to the water and sewer ordinance failed on a 2-3 vote, with he and DeRoche voting in favor.

Lawrence and Moegerle did say, however, that they would like to work with Ronning to provide residents with the type of communication he had referenced in his motion.

Later, in discussions before the vote to approve the proposed amendments, DeRoche expressed his concerns about the impact the connection fees will have on the city’s smaller businesses that are being required to hook up. “Not everybody is going to be able to do this,” DeRoche said. “If it comes down to the way it’s looking, they’re going to leave because they have no choice. Then we’re going to have more empty buildings. I think they need more time.”

Davis said that a loan policy for sewer access charges (SAC) and water access charges (WAC) will be on the next city council agenda. He said the city is looking into a way to spread payments out for those businesses.

“We’re open to discuss anything that would help mitigate the impact of this decision on these businesses,” Davis said.