Council closes 2016 by financing $6 million for new wells

Council closes 2016 by financing $6 million for new wells

Also takes action for better cell service for northern Cumberland, constructing sidewalk for McCourt

CUMBERLAND – At their final meeting of 2016, Town Council members obligated Water Department customers to pay off $6 million in capital improvement spending to construct the new well fields on Schofield and Franklin Farm properties.

And just to make clear that the project is financed by revenue bonds, and strictly the obligation of the 8,100 families consuming Cumberland water, councilors approved Councilor Scott Schmitt’s insertion of a sentence in the resolution of approval that reads:

“The bonds and notes referred to in section 1 are not secured by a pledge of the full faith and credit of the town of Cumberland.”

Schmitt noted that the town charter requires a townwide vote before incurring debt of more than $200,000, but exempts revenue bonds, a fact backed up by the town’s bond counsel.

Schmitt said he wanted to be clear that only the water system users are responsible for repayment.

Town solicitor Tom Hefner said he felt the line wasn’t needed but would probably not create a problem.

Also mentioned during the discussion was an unexpected delay in assessing water customers for upcoming system improvements.

Water customers may recall that in October, the Town Council had approved an added $1 per 1,000 gallons infrastructure surcharge – about $90 a year for the average household – that was supposed to begin with the latest mailing. Officials later determined that would have been a retroactive assessment based on water use prior to the council’s vote, so the charge was delayed until the next billing.

In other business during the Dec. 28 meeting:

• The council agreed to borrow $60,000 to complete a sidewalk project on Highland Avenue where McCourt Middle School is located.

Finance Director Brian Silvia reminded councilors that a July 2014 resolution authorized $500,000 in borrowing from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank to rehabilitate Forest Avenue at a cost of $370,000.

That left $130,000 to fund a second project, a cement sidewalk from High Street to the school, estimated at $190,000, or $60,000 more than the town had borrowed.

Councilors agreed to borrow the remaining $60,000 from the infrastructure bank to complete the project this spring.

• Town Council members closed the year 2016 by writing off about $230,000 in auto taxes deemed noncollectable for the years 2001 through 2006.

Silvia said the old accounts had been turned over to a collection agency, Rossi Law Office, but the statute of limitations on their collection has expired.

Also wiped off the books were small amounts of taxes billed in 2015 and 2016 to three individuals who had died.

Silvia said the town is actually writing off about $259,000, but that’s offset by about $29,000 in money owed residents that the town has been unable to return.

According to information provided to councilors, a 1958 court case established a statute of limitations on auto taxes that ends after 10 years. There’s no limitation on collecting real estate taxes, however.

The hundreds of unpaid taxes are listed by tax year, type of car and amount owed. Many amounts are under $100. Left unpaid in 2001, for example, were $49 in taxes on a 1993 Mercury Grand Marquis, $65 on a 1994 Toyota Camry, and $94 on a 1998 Mustang.

Silvia, who was attending his last meeting before becoming Warwick’s treasurer, explained the town had no recourse but to write off the money owed.

He noted the town has about $38.5 million in receivables currently.

• The town will pick up extra revenue, and cell service in northern Rhode Island is expected to improve, with the addition of a Verizon Wireless cell tower at the site of the new Fisher Road water tank.

A spokesman for Verizon told the Town Council last month that cell phone providers prefer to work with municipalities in placing towers, especially in using structures like water tanks that mask the tower, considered “unsightly” by many, from view.

The company sought out Cumberland after an analysis by radio frequency engineers showed problems in the northern Cumberland area.

The spokesman, attorney Peter Anderson of Manchester, N.H., could not specify exactly the range of improved service when Councilor Lisa Beaulieu questioned whether it would include the North Cumberland Middle School, where the signal is so poor that she says it poses a safety concern.

Under the plan, Verizon will erect a monopole with space for four carriers, Verizon and three others. It’s not uncommon, Anderson said, for competing cell carriers to share space on the same tower.

The town will realize revenue of $12,000 a year in fees from Verizon, an amount that increases by 2 percent a year for the term of the 20-year contract for a total $583,137. Cumberland will also receive 40 percent of income Verizon derives from subleasing space on the tower, an amount that could equal another $12,000 a year for a total package over 20 years of $1.4 million.

Councilors also approved a new contract with T-Mobile Northeast that has cell service equipment in the steeple of Town Hall.

A revenue increase of $800 a month, for a total of $1,800, was announced.