Newport City Council learns that city sewer, water and storm drain repairs and upgrades aren’t cheap – higher rates on the near horizon.
With City Finance Director Dave Marshall at his side Monday night, Newport Public Works Director Tim Gross laid out some tough medicine to swallow. Gross told the city council that Newport’s underground plumbing for sewer, water and storm drains are largely decades upon decades old, and that much of it must be replaced along with the construction of new projects like water tanks, new pump stations and a back up water line to South Beach from the Newport side of the bay.
Gross said he would prefer to see the city council take a pro-active approach with a steady annual rise in sewer and water rates along with the implementation of a first-ever storm drain fee. Gross was quick to add that the amount of those increases will depend on what portion of the total tab city ratepayers would have to contribute after federal and state grants are added to the mix along with fees levied on new private and public sector development that comes along. But he also told the council that however the money raised, it must represent an annual bump-up in revenues of 15 to 20% a year if the town is to replace its aging (and in some instances decrepit) sewer and water distribution systems under streets, yards, businesses and homes. Gross said 90% of the town’s utility pipes were installed between 1910 and 1960 and that Newport cannot go on living on borrowed time.
The council thanked Gross for his “tell-it-like-it-is” approach and admitted that it’s time the city faced up to the challenges of upgrading the town’s utility systems. Mayor Mark McConnell said he expects Gross and Finance Director Dave Marshall to begin showing those added revenues in the current budget plan for 2012-13 and for five years out. The trick, Gross re-emphacized, will be in maximizing outside grants and revenues from new development while minimizing the burden on current ratepayers.