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Town Bills Neighbors for Water Main. Amount Still in Dispute

A Forest Road resident came up with a figure that's $3,155 less than the $10,735 per property the Town Council approved Monday night.

When Andriy and Valeviya Potapovs bought their home on Forest Road last year, they said no one had told them of an assessment of thousands of dollars the couple would be asked to pay for a water main extension on their street seven years prior. The Town Council had approved an ordinance to assist homeowners on Forest Road and Cedar Terrace with well water problems, but bills the had never been sent out.

"Someone dropped the ball and now I'm being asked to pay for it," Andriy said Monday.

This year, Town Attorney Jack Fracassini had advised the Town Council to place liens on the 15 properties and to bill the residents for the water main extension and lateral hook ups to "make the town whole."

Each property owner was to receive an $11,830 assessment, but Fracassini later factored in credits based upon a $40,331 refund the town received from Aquarion Water Co. for water meters and lateral hook ups. Each assessment was reduced by $1,094.91, bringing it down to $10,735.51 a piece.

However, Barbara T. Edgar of Forest Road had spoken with Steve Glowa of Aquarion earlier in the day on Monday. Glowa handled the project for the water company. Based on their conversation, Edgar came up with a different figure. Among the differences, she subtracted $7,000 for fire hydrants and came up with $7,580 assessments per household.

After listening to both sides, the Town Council voted 6-3 to approve the $10,735.51 assessments. Democrats Nick Kapoor, Dee Dee Martin and Raymond Knapp voted in opposition because they believed the Republican leadership cut off debate too soon.

"I think they completely disregarded everything we submitted," Edgar said after the meeting. "They should have called Mr. Glowa into a meeting to see what Aquarion really had to say before making a decision. It will probably result in some lawsuits."

One lawsuit is already pending. Three property owners had bought their home after the agreement had been made between the town and the previous owners, and one family is suing. The Town Council held an executive session to discuss it in private Monday night.

Fracassini said that he had also spoken with Glowa, adding that Glowa went through Aquarion's archives for four days upon his request.

John Badyrka of Forest Road said, "They should subtract the cost of the fire hydrants off the bill. It's as simple as that."

Any affected resident wishing to appeal their assessment in court has until April 29 to decide and would have to do it individually. Badyrka said it would cost about $500 just to file an appeal.

Five percent annual interest would be charged starting on May 1, according to the motion the council approved. However, Fracassini said that Finance Dir. Carl Tomchik is researching the interest rate and that he should have an answer on exactly what it should be in about a week.

Debate on the Floor

One point of contention was over whether the neighbors should have to pay for the fire hydrants. Kapoor had repeatedly asked if the hydrants were included in the assessments.

Town Council Vice Chairwoman Debra Heim said it is, adding the homeowners benefit from lower fire insurance because of the hydrants.

Councilman Frank Lieto pointed out that the town has been paying interest on the cost of the work for the past seven years. "If everything had been done smoothly, it would have been paid for by the residents," he said. "They're not being charged for that."

"Why should the residents be paying for what was a town mistake?" Kapoor asked, referring to the town's failure to bill the homeowners for seven years.

Lieto said, "Yes there was a mistake. We do not believe they should have to pay the interest, but it's important to mention that these residents have been benefiting from the water main [paid for] by the town over the past six years."

Town Council Chairwoman Enid Lipeles said it would take a two-thirds vote to call the question on the revised assessments and Councilman Tony Unger seconded the motion. Though Kapoor said he wanted to ask more questions, the council decided 6-3 along party lines to vote on the $10,735.51 assessments.

The motion for the assessments passed 6-3.

"We gave them back $1,094, which is fair because for seven years they've had clean water," Lipeles said.

Unger said council members considered all of the information on the issue before making a decision.

"Anybody who says anybody already made up their mind, I take exception to that," Unger said. "If the town isn't made whole, whatever the neighbors don't pay is picked up by the rest of the taxpayers."

Since the water main was installed, Unger said the town has picked up the maintenance costs.

 'It's a Republican Town'

After the meeting, council Democrats were still upset that there was not more debate before the vote on the assessments was taken.

"It is utterly ridiculous that the minority was not allowed to ask more questions before the motion was called," Kapoor said. "Robert's Rules are meant to protect the minority. What happened tonight was an affront to the neighbors of Forest Road and Cedar Terrace and the minority."

Martin said, "Since when can't we talk for five minutes to ask questions? The Republicans caucus before the meeting and draft a motion. We never even heard it until it was read aloud. We had about two or three questions, then they used the parliamentary procedure to call the question and end the debate. It's bad for the public too."

"I think the number's high," Martin added of the assessment. "I don't think the hydrants should be in there, but that's what the debate is for: Try to convince me that I'm wrong."

When asked about council Democrats' complaints, Lipeles said she always goes out of her way to give Kapoor more time than anyone else to ask questions because he is a new council member. She estimated that he was given 15 to 20 minutes to ask questions.

"He went over hydrants and hydrants and hyrdrants and there was nothing new," Lipeles said of her decision to call the question.

She added that State Rep. DebraLee Hovey (R-112) could tell people about how the Democratic Party majority at the state level goes over issues in a caucus then passes it over the Republican minority.

"We caucus and it runs more smoothly," Lipeles said. "That is the democratic way. We're the majority, so that's what the voters must want. This is a Republican town and they seem to be happy. It's the minority that brings up the politics every single time."

monroe taxpayer April 10, 2012 at 05:33 PM
I don't care if your an R or a D, it is simply wrong to bill new homeowners. There was clear title at time of purchase because SOME town employees made the same error, repeatedly for seven years. And a home is not a home without water and should not be taxed as one without drinkable water. The other injustice here is being done to the town taxpayers who are now going to pay the bill not only for this legal mess and the seven years of interest, not to mention the fact that who ever made this error is still probably still employed here. . If politics is more important then the taxpayer and whats fair and just then this town,state and country is in big trouble. The saying "the buck stops here" is not refer to tax dollars, it is about owning up to mistakes, correcting them and moving on.
Laura April 10, 2012 at 05:36 PM
My head is spinning!!!
Christine E. April 10, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Hey, listen...I don't agree with anything that's going on right now, Democrat or Republican. I just think that a lot of emphasis was put on, during the campaign, not wanting to be the politician who worried about party principles. Now in the position, we're seeing (as I said when the campaign was in full force) it's just not possible, as the minority will always say things aren't fair and the majority gets pushy. Happy-go-lucky, 'let's work together' politics doesn't exist in this country - and it certainly isn't a reality in the Monroe Town Council. I'm just waiting to see who gets blamed for the 'clerical error' going unnoticed for 7 years.
Peter Woods April 10, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Ms. Lipeles, maybe too much power in the hands of one party is not good because people get arrogant when they don't have to worry about losing an election. Why weren't the democrats allowed to ask questions until they were satisfied? You and your fellow republicans had time to caucus and ask all your questions. I might add that you asked your questions without benefit of the public hearing. What happened to open government?
Peter Woods April 10, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Why is it partisan to stick up for some homeowners who are not being treated fairly? I think Mr. Kapoor is doing his job helping the citizens of Forest Road. Pay for fire hydrants....that sounds crazy to me!
monroe taxpayer April 10, 2012 at 06:40 PM
This was a mistake that repeated for several years in a row. It has embarrassed the town and will cost the taxpayers even more money besides the seven years of lost interest. To try to silence this discussion is frankly insulting and shows a total lack of concern of responsibility to the taxpayers of this town. And lets be clear the responsibility here is not to either political party but to the town taxpayers and citizens.
Harry Crandon April 10, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Another example of power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. How arrogant of the Council majority to run rough-shod over the rights of the minority. What's next? Who's next? If this is a so-called "Republican town," it is by permission of sheep who, while being led blind-folded, allow it to be so. The step-child of arrogance, by the way, is disdain--the same contempt the privleged few held for the masses and said, :"Let them eat cake." But who cares about history, or its lessons...
Christine E. April 10, 2012 at 07:40 PM
New Homeowners shouldn't have to pay a dime to the town of Monroe. The title was clean when they made the purchase. Perhaps they would have opted to purchase a home elsewhere had they known there was an additional expense hanging in the wind. The people who owe money to the town are the people who were there when the agreement was put together. Sad.
QWERTY April 10, 2012 at 08:09 PM
but it's a wash because they get lower fire insurance rates!
Christine E. April 10, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Haha yeah - and the savings will really count big in....670 years?
jim laguardia April 10, 2012 at 11:24 PM
and dont forget the clean water.... you know what a third world country strives for, they got it for all these years !!!
John F. April 10, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Wait wait wait wait....something is wrong here. Christine E. and Jim Laguardia on the same side, making jokes about the same thing? Hell must have frozen over haha. But I agree. I don't see how the town thinks they have a case against the new homeowners that have a clear title when they moved in. At the very least, those new homeowners should be contacting their closing attorney and title insurance company.
Christine E. April 11, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Oh, John F. You stink! :) I agree though. These lawsuits are going to last for years. Yet still...no one is being held accountable for it. The town is willing to bite each others heads off and place blame left and right for all sorts of things, but when it comes to whose at fault for this...the attitude changes to 'let's stick together'. If it was just simply having to get back money that's owed...well, okay then. But, it's more complicated than that. Now, in addition to everything else...prepare to deal with legal fees for an extended period of time. Simple 'clerical' errors, as it has been put, can have not-so-simple consequences.
Jethro April 11, 2012 at 01:30 AM
Why is Enid afraid to let the minority be heard on this issue? She choose to caucus in secret so nobody could hear what was discussed. I wonder what was said that they did not want anybody to hear. Then they shut the D's down from asking questions? Something smells fishy here. How is this a representative government? Shame on you Enid. Why is Enid still the chairman when Heim garnered more votes? You have to love how Enid justifies bad behavior by pointing to other bad behavior.
Schap April 11, 2012 at 02:16 AM
I find the comments interesting. I am one of the few citizens that sat in the theatre for all the discussions and comments. i wish the press would have put out more of the facts and statements given by both sides. I commend both sides and they both have valid points.Some items are still missing that I did not hear.1) When and who discovered the tax liens were never posted?2) Our first selectman stated at the meeting on Palm sunday @ the library that he knew about this problem dating back to February of 2011 and he didn't do anything?(Maybe it was an election year)? He had an entire year to gather the information and at most of the meeting all I have is that they didn't have time to find the answers.3) Someone signed the checks that paid Aquarion and the paving companies and someone in the finance office had to account for the funds. We received a $40,000 check back from Aquarion in 2005 or 2006 what account did that go to?4) The citizens have mentioned time again they want to pay,for what they owe! 5) I understand that the fire hydrants were part of the original Aquarion estimate, but did all the home owners know that? I understand that the tax collector stated that by STATE STATUE the town has the ability to make us "whole", but does that make it right? Since the town can't produce all the facts, I believe the citizens didn't get the apology they deserve or the compromise they tried to fight for.
Paul Sobel April 11, 2012 at 12:28 PM
There was not clear title at the time of purchase - it was not clear of the pending assessment. Additionally, the standard for of real estate contract approved by the Bpt. and Fairfield County Bar Ass'n contracts includes the following langauge: "Seller represents that Seller has no knowledge of any special assessments levied against the premises or to be levied against the premises which are not yet a lien on the Premises and has no knowledge of any existing improvement or work on the Premises which may result in a special taxes or assessments to be paid thereon." This is an example of a clause typically included in a contract prepared and reviewed by attorneys, but not usually a part of the various forms of contracts, or binders which may also serve as contracts, prepared by real estate agents. If this clause had been in any of the contracts for the purchase of property by people that claim to have had no knowledge, and the pending assessment was not disclosed, the seller would have made a fraudulent misrepresentation by not disclosing the pending assessment. If the people who purchased were unaware and there was no contract representation to the effect of the above, the town is not to blame. Prudent representation would have had such a provision included as a part of a contract due to the fact that a pending assessment is always a possibility.
jim laguardia April 11, 2012 at 02:39 PM
as in the past i am just pointing out the funny parts of the ridiculousness (is that a word) things like "clean water", they do it, so we can do it too attitude...
monroe taxpayer April 11, 2012 at 04:47 PM
I can not help but to wonder just how differently this would be handled in surrounding towns. Why are the taxpayers being denied answers to their questions? If we can not handle the response to this mess correctly what does this say about the future of this town. I always thought that a town belong to the taxpayers and citizens, not to political party members?
Christine E. April 11, 2012 at 06:51 PM
We can't investigate the cause of an obvious error, but we can argue back and forth about the budget for weeks on end. No one wants to point any fingers on this...why? Our town government is divided amongst each other, but to the taxpayers they maintain a united front. How can we prevent things like this from happening in the future if we aren't putting forth the necessary checks and balances?
Walt April 11, 2012 at 07:53 PM
OK, OK, it was Mary Jones from the assessors office. She did it. On purpose, because she hates taxpayers. They're scheduling her execution on the green for this Friday and they're accepting volunteers for the firing squad. I'm sure you will all be fighting each other to be the ones who get to pull the trigger.
Christine E. April 11, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Walt, Your insinuation that we 'hate' town employees is getting old. Who, what, when, how and why are all things that need to be investigated - not to put someone's head on a platter, but so that proper procedures can be put in place so that future 'clerical errors' don't take place. If procedures don't change and everything stays 'business as usual', then what's the say something like this won't happen again? Come on Walt, stop taking this stuff so personally.
Walt April 12, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Personally? No, not me. Look back at some of the old posts on this and there's plenty of asking why someone would still have a job etc. If this situation arises in the future, the town should just stay out of it altogether and let them enjoy their polluted water.
QWERTY April 12, 2012 at 03:32 AM
Gotta wonder how forgiving Walt would be if one of his family members were to, god forbid, perish because of a simple communication error with paramedics. Obviously the seriousness isn't the same but you get the point.
John F. April 12, 2012 at 04:16 AM
No sense in learning from the past, so who cares who did it. It happened. If we pretend like it didn't happen, then no way can it happen again. I am sure the employee has learned a valuable lesson.
Walt April 12, 2012 at 11:14 AM
What a stretch
Christine E. April 12, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Walt... If you were running a business, and one day an error occurred within the bookkeeping that resulted in a significant loss of revenue and required that you pay thousands in legal fees, would you be so forgiving? Probably not. You'd probably investigate who caused the problem, why it happened, and how to avoid it in the future. You would also probably be more likely to pay extra close attention to what your bookkeeper is doing, if not replace them with someone new all together. What makes town employees any different? Are they not subject to the same standards simply because they work for the town?
Laura April 12, 2012 at 03:24 PM
HEAD STILL SPINNING!!!
monroe taxpayer April 12, 2012 at 05:12 PM
First It is shocking that this happened to begin with. But it then went unresolved and unnoticed for several years even after the original homeowners made inquires? There is no reason not to have a open investigation and explanation of this mess. The idea that it should t be brushed aside without investigation hints that there is much more to this story. Or at the very least it seems political affiliation is being used to protect employees. This attempt to handle this issue in this way shows that in Monroe, politics is more important then the what is right for the taxpayers / families. What does this method say about all decisions by our elected officials and the future of Monroe?
Steve Kirsch April 13, 2012 at 03:18 AM
Enough already with the “who did it” and “how did it happen” stuff! The reality is that we will never know for sure from what I have heard (meaning it may not be 100% true). The Town Council approved the resolution but may not have had any follow-up process. The motion may have included an amendment during debate telling the First Selectman at the time to do something so maybe he failed. Then there is the tax collector who can put liens on the property but has to be told to do so. Did the Council tell him? Did the First Selectman? What about the town attorney at the time who could have advised and maybe even directed the tax collector to apply the liens, or maybe just remind either the Council or First Selectman that it needed to be done. Was there someone in public works that was involved with the construction who could have notified others that the work was completed and thereby triggering a thought by others to bill the citizens? Was there a building inspection at the time the water lines were attached to the homes? How about the finance department that paid the bills and took the money from some account in order to do so? What about the Board of Finance who looks after all the spending in town and helps to determine where funding comes? Clearly it was a major screw-up with lots of opportunity to catch the error or omission and fix it. So where do we go from here? (End Part 1)
Steve Kirsch April 13, 2012 at 03:20 AM
Part 2 So where do we go from here? All of you raising this issue have to understand that Monroe Patch is not a formal vehicle for communicating with town officials and is certainly not the place where you are going to get any real response. Instead, you need to get out from in front of your computers and go to the next Town Council meeting. Stand up during public participation and ask the First Selectman and Town Council members what has been done to ensure that something like this never happens again. You could also contact the First Selectman and ask for a personal meeting to discuss your concerns about this whole matter. Maybe you should just write letters to the First Selectman and Town Council. If you are really concerned, stop using Patch and use the avenues available to you through our town government. Oh, by the way, I think that the Town Council has put in place a process to track items in the future. Add that to your questions you can ask during public participation. End Part 2

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