PSA Sewer Meeting: Hot Time in Cheriton Fire Hall
By GEORGE SOUTHERN
Cape Charles Wave
September 17, 2013
Nearly 100 people turned out Monday night to hear and question plans by the Eastern Shore Public Service Authority to pipe sewage from commercial properties near Route 13 to the Cape Charles treatment plant.
PSA Chairman Bob Panek, who also is assistant town manager for Cape Charles, found himself in hostile territory: not a single speaker during the meeting supported the sewer expansion. The reason was clear: cost – initially $1.8 million, which could balloon to $12 million in a later phase encompassing Cheriton and surrounding areas.
The PSA is recommending mandatory sewer service for 70 commercial properties with a total tax value of $18 million. The project would cost $1.8 million, or 10 percent of the total value of the properties. The $1.8 million would be borrowed with an annual debt service of $124,000 for 20 years.
Northampton County Board of Supervisors has already voted to pay 25 percent of the debt service from the County’s general fund, meaning that all county taxpayers will pay a share. The remaining 75 percent would come from a special tax district encompassing the 70 commercial properties, where property taxes will nearly double.
Panek said the PSA is acting on the basis of a July 2012 survey of the 64 commercial property owners affected. There were only 10 responses to the survey: 5 “yes,” 4 “maybe,” and 1 “no.” Panek said that although survey response was “thin,” those who responded “positively” (meaning “yes” or “maybe”) own about a third of the total assessed $18 million.
Of the 70 parcels included in the special tax district, most are vacant, meaning they presently have no need for sewage treatment. The two big users are McDonald’s and Hardee’s, Panek said.
Questions and answers at the meeting included the following (names of speakers appear when known):
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Question (Deborah Bender): Isn’t it correct that you (Bob Panek) have caused the Town of Cape Charles a $289,000 yearly debt, and now you’re getting the County in debt?
Panek: No, you’re wrong. [Cape Charles] Town Council made that decision.
Question (David Gay): If you build it and customers don’t come, who pays the cost?
Panek: Taxes pay for it.
Question from several speakers: Why can’t we vote on this in a referendum?
Panek: You’ll have to ask the County [Board of Supervisors].
Question: You said that it takes 5,000 users to obtain “reasonable” sewer rates. If Cheriton signs up, how close would we be to 5,000?
Panek: Not close at all.
Question: Who asked for a sewer system?
Panek: It is a top priority of the Board of Supervisors.
Question: The survey was 5 yes, 4 maybe, and 1 no. You’re going to tell me I’m the only one who voted no? And us 69 property owners have to pay 75 percent of the cost? Where did they come up with that?
Panek: I can’t answer that.
Question: Has Cape Charles Town Council accepted [receiving sewage from the County]?
Question (Andy Buchholz): Verbally.
Panek: You’re wrong. It was in writing.
Question: The northern part of the county is taking a $40 million hit [with the loss of Riverside Hospital]. Wouldn’t it be better to switch phases [to develop sewerage there first]?
Panek: We talked with Riverside Hospital, but they have put off all decisions on what to do with their remaining campus in Nassawadox.
Question (Eyre Baldwin): How many businesses would go away if you didn’t have a [sewer] pipe? None. So why are we taking care of Food Lion and McDonald’s? Have you done a rate structure?
Question (Eyre Baldwin): So we still don’t know our [monthly] payments. It’s like trying to buy a car without knowing the payment.
Panek: The Board of Supervisors will not vote [on sewer plans] until the rate structure is known.
Question (Eyre Baldwin): When will the rate become available? Why are the Supervisors moving forward with engineering?
Panek: $95,000 is budgeted for a contract to update engineering work.
Question (Deborah Bender): The [Cape Charles] September 5 work session was cancelled until after the public hearing. Are you negotiating with yourself?
Panek: I’ll take that as a comment, not a question.
Question (Joe Brown): If we haven’t attracted industry in 40 years, what makes you think we will today?
Question: The oyster shucking houses are all gone, etc. Where is the economic development coming from? It ain’t here!
Question: That’s an awful lot of red [commercial properties] along Route 13. I thought the highway department said for many years to [be careful about] 13 development, because it could cause a bypass to be built.
Question: What is an “affordable” monthly sewer rate?
Panek: 1.5 percent of median household income, or $45/month.
Question: The 500,000 gpd sewer plant was cut back to 250,000 gpd because Bay Creek would not pay for expansion, and Bayshore Concrete is on a septic system. Why is the Town [agreeing to] taking other sewage, and not Bayshore?
Panek: Because of the annexation agreement.
Question: I own two properties and never received a survey. If I had I would have responded. Amend the results to make a second “No.” And who are the property owners that responded. Isn’t that a matter of public record?
Panek: Absolutely. We’ll do that [make the information available].
Question (Andy Buchholz): How many [sewer] connections can we have at the maximum? Will [County expansion] limit houses in Cape Charles?
Question (Lisa Harmon): Will Bay Creek kick in money for expansion?
Panek: We’ll have to have that discussion with Bay Creek.
Question (Lisa Harmon): Does having more customers [outside Town limits] do away with the annexation agreement [with Bay Creek]?
Panek: The agreement is unclear.
Question: Why is the smell so bad?
Panek: The problem is the pumping station vacuum system. With the lack of development in Bay Creek, the sewage stays in the pipe such a long time that it goes septic.
Question: Do we [affected commercial property owners] have to pay both [the 25 percent and the 75 percent] taxes?
Question: So what you’re saying is, you built a multi-million-dollar system and now you want us to pay for it?
Question (David Steelman): That map is not in red, it’s in blood.
Question (Mike Steelman): Raise your hands if you’re for this. [No one, including Panek, raised his hand.] We need to send a message to the Board of Supervisors and the PSA that the technology is good, but they need to construct a model that will not put an undue burden on property owners.
Question (Bruce Evans): The PSA has no power to decide this. You need to go raise hell with the Board of Supervisors next week at the public hearing.
Question (Philip Morris): Why is the water coming out in the harbor brown?
Panek: I’ll address that after the meeting. It has been in the [Town] Gazette.