Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Common Council Votes Unanimously to Bring Bond on Mattabassett District to Referendum

The discussion of a $37 million bond concerning Middletown’s full membership in the Mattabassett District dominated the proceedings at Monday’s Common Council meeting. Following a spirited and illuminating discussion of the bond, the council voted unanimously to bring the bonding question to referendum.

On Election Day on November 6th, voters will have to answer whether they support bounding “for the planning, design, acquisition and construction of a force main and inter-municipal pump station in connection with Mattabassett regionalization project”, which a portion of the ordinance reads. Middletown is currently not a member of the district, and only sends some of its wastewater to the Mattabassett.

A number of council members made their strong support for the measure clear. “For me, this is one of the most important referendum questions,” said Councilman Ron Klattenberg. “It’s transformational. This vote can change the character of Middletown. Our riverfront is valuable. Anyone who knows about the plant knows. This has to be done. There’s no question.”

Councilman Phil Pessina also spoke about the positive impact the project would have on the riverfront. “This is an important project,” he said. “Construction will mean the economic development of the waterfront. One thing we’ve been talking about is a boat launch. This is the first step in doing it.”

Majority leader Tom Serra said the benefits to the city and ratepayers would include the stabilization of sewer rates and the enhancement of economic development and environmental quality.

Former Mayor Sebastian Giuliano was one of a handful of citizens who stated their support for the project. He stated that it would strongly improve both the environmental and public health of the city. “The best message you can send to citizens and partners in the district is that it has the full support of the administration and legislative branch, recommending it be put on the ballot,” Giuliano.

Quentin “Q” Phipps, the Executive Director of the Middletown Business District, also lent his support and said the bound would me backed fully by the MBD. The bond’s importance becomes much more evident when you consider that Middletown is under federal mandate to either upgrade the existing sewer plant on River Road or join a sewer district. The stretch of riverfront property on this road that includes the city’s antiquated sewage treatment facility would be decommissioned and razed if Middletown becomes a full member of the Mattabassett District. Doing so would allow an expansion of the waterfront area.

Resident and former councilman Earl Roberts expressed significant concerns about the project. “I’m concerned about our ability to play,” Roberts said. “That’s a lot of bonding. Be cautious,” he urged the council. “What’s the urgency?” Roberts stated. “I hope you ask yourselves this question, because this is a big debt and we’re not out of the woods yet with this economy.”

Pessina addressed Roberts’s statements by saying that Middletown should counteract the cost of the project by pursuing grants. “The public worries that we spend money,” Pessina said.” But we have a responsibility to direct the finance director to get grants, to look for alternative financing to defray the costs.”

Mayor Daniel Drew summed up the bond discussion before the unanimous vote. He stated that the city will aggressively pursue state grants for the project, and that he believes its costs will not necessarily meet the full cost of the bond ordinance. Drew also spoke about how fully joining the District and its Regionalization Project would be the most cost effective way for Middletown to upgrade its water quality and stabilize the sewer rates its citizens pay.

Middletown’s Sewer Department has 10,000 customers and now maintains approximately 130 miles of pipes, 15 pumping stations and the treatment plant on River Road.

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