WEST WILDWOOD — Members of the Concerned Taxpayers of West Wildwood are reconsidering their attempt to repeal a $1.75 million sewer bond ordinance after finally getting some of their questions answered at a meeting Wednesday night.
“I feel like we got some answers,” said Concerned Taxpayers Treasurer Susan Czwalina after the meeting. “We have to go through the numbers and see if it all makes sense. I wish we’d had this information two weeks ago.”
Mayor Christopher Fox said the project would replace sanitary sewers on Poplar Avenue from Arion to G Street, and on G from Poplar to Glenwood, a total of about seven blocks.
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The road beds would be raised, and paving and curbing would be replaced. It is needed because of flooding issues and because breaks in the pipes are causing flood water to enter the system, resulting in almost five times as much water running through it as expected for the population.
After replacement, sewer costs for the borough should go down, said engineer James Oris of Remington and Vernick.
Oris said the borough is applying for U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grants that would pay for about half of the cost and the rest would be financed with a low-interest 40-year USDA loan.
The project will not go forward if the borough does not get the grants, Fox said.
It is necessary to bond the full amount because the grant is a reimbursement grant, according to the auditor with Bowman and Company. The borough would have to pay to have the work done, then get reimbursed and pay off the bonds.
Concerned Taxpayers had recently started a petition drive to force a public vote on the bond ordinance, which was passed by the Borough Commission last month at a special meeting where residents said Commissioners Scott Golden and Amy Korobellis could not answer basic questions about the project to be funded.
“I’m not going to sign it,” said resident Joe Kline after the meeting. “I don’t like the way they selected the street, but I agree with the engineer the work has to be done.”
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Some residents had pointed out that Golden lives on Poplar in the affected area, as does Fox’s wife Debbie Fox, and two other municipal employees.
Mayor Fox said Poplar was chosen because the borough already had a $156,000 grant to use in that location, and because it is one of the worst streets for flooding.
According to the group, state law requires 41 signatures of registered voter residents on a petition to force a public vote. That would represent 15% of the votes cast in the municipality in the last general election, according to the group.
The deadline to file the petition is Feb. 13, the group said.
“As you are aware, the borough’s poor judgment in the past has led to taxpayers footing the bill for a $1.7 million lawsuit to police Chief Jackie Ferentz and her Lawyer, Michelle Douglas,” said a letter dated Jan. 28 from Concerned Taxpayers to residents. “This represents a $23,000 monthly expense as Douglas receives $18,000 and Ferentz $5,000 for years to come.”
Douglas will be fully paid in 42 months under the plan, and Ferentz in 200 months.
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“Lest we forget, the new in-house (West Wildwood) solicitor is Mary Bittner, the same attorney who was directly involved in the Ferentz case, with the result being denied coverage by the Joint Insurance Fund and the payments now being made by you, the taxpayers.”
The group estimated new costs per sewer connection could exceed $30 more per quarter, for an average household sewer bill of $870 per year.
But the auditor estimated the financing for the low-interest loan would amount to about $30,000 a year, costing the average sewer customer about $36 extra per year. He said it would be added to sewer bills, not to the municipal tax rate.