Sewer project charges remain unresolved

Howell built Route 9 sewer line, now property owners must pay their share of $5.6 million bill

Staff Writer

HOWELL — Township officials and 91 property owners are still discussing how much each property owner will pay for a sewer project on Route 9 that runs from Lanes Mill Road south to the Lakewood border.

The total amount due from the 91 property owners is $5.6 million, which includes interest and is to be paid over a 20-year span, Chief Financial Officer Jeffery Filiatreault said at the Dec. 14 meeting of the Howell Township Council.

According to Filiatreault, the construction bonds for the project have been sold and once the calculations are officially established, payments on the bonds can begin.

A public hearing on the matter was held during the council meeting. Although each property owner has been informed of what his share of the $5.6 million payout is, those amounts remain an issue for some of the 91 property owners.

The Route 9 sewer project dates to 2002, according to Ernest Peters of CME Associates, the township’s engineer. In a survey, a majority of property owners in the targeted area indicated they wanted sewer service to their properties.

In 2003 an ordinance was adopted requiring the issuance of $4.2 million in construction bonds to pay for the work.

In 2005 after the plans were designed, reviewed and approved, the construction cost had increased to $5.2 million, Peters said.

The $5.6 million figure to be paid back over 20 years includes interest.

The amount that each property owner will be required to pay toward that $5.6 million total will be based on the developable portion of each property, Peters said.

To determine an amount per property owner, engineers estimated the amount of wetlands and buffers on a property. Then the developable land was calculated by subtracting the wetlands and buffers from the total acreage, Filiatreault said.

The Route 9 sewer project has been completed for more than three years, and some property owners are already connected to the sewer system, but only the connection fees have been paid back, Peters said.

“Taxpayers [spent] the money to pay for the sewer project,” Mayor Robert Walsh said.

Andrew and Tracey DeCesare, the owners of the Regent Diner and an adjacent strip mall on Route 9, said they were initially told that their share of the $5.6 million payback would be $446,000.

The DeCesares disagreed with that amount and said they spent $20,000 on professionals to re-examine the matter.

“CME cost me $20,000 to get their numbers right,” Andrew DeCesare said. “I expected reliable calculations.”

The DeCesares said that after the professionals reviewed the situation, the amount they were to be charged for their share of the sewer project was reduced from $446,000 to $238,000.

The difference of $208,000 in their charge will have to be apportioned on the remaining 90 property owners in the sewer project zone because the $5.6 million repayment amount cannot change.

Peters said certain changes on the property, such as required buffer zones, may have changed over time and could be responsible for the differences between the initial amount to be charged and the revised amount to be charged to the DeCesares.

He said if an individual brings in new information about his property, CME Associates could lower the amount to be charged to that property owner. Peters said it is not the township’s responsibility to make sure the calculations are accurate for each property.

In order to get the arithmetic recalculated and the amount to be paid changed, the property owner would have to prove how much developable land now exists on his parcel, Peters said.

The council did not take final action on the matter at the Dec. 14 meeting and agreed to once again notify the 91 property owners to provide up-to-date information about their property to the township.

It is expected that the issue of the sewer project charges will be taken up by the council early in 2011.