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."