Newport Public Works Director Tim Gross told his city council and a packed city council chambers Monday night, that Newport’s water and sewer lines are in bad shape; they’re failing all the time. Gross said most distribution pipes installed 50 to 75 years ago are, today, literally rotting underground to the point that when there is a break, he has trouble coupling replacement segments to the old pipes because they’re either too brittle or like mush.
Gross outlined various methods of financing the reconstruction of Newport’s underground pipes. But in the end, he appeared to settle on one alternative that would soften the financial burden to city taxpayers by quite a lot – over 5 years. His plan is this: Rate hikes for water and sewer by 15% the first year, 15% the second, 10% the third year, 10% the fourth year, and 8% the fifth. If the council goes for the plan, Gross said the city could avoid throwing good money after bad .
Gross estimates that over the next five years, the average combined water and sewer bill for a typical Newport home could rise from today’s $70 month to a little more than twice that. Gross said the city must get ahead of it’s repair operations dilemma by replacing at least a mile and a half of pipe every year. He said it comes out to $3.0 million a year to replace enough pipe to stay ahead of the current failure rate for sewer and water.
Some in the audience decried the increases, calling on the council to take $3.0 million a year from the city’s general fund and put it into the sewer and water funds. Gross and the council both said that the city doesn’t have enough in the general fund to maintain the city and completely rebuild the town’s water and sewer infrastructure. “We just don’t have the money,” said Gross, adding that the last few generations of Newport residents did not set aside monies to replace the system. “They didn’t pay it forward,” Gross said, “and so now we have to pay for all those years of neglect.” He said he would like the council to consider an 8% increase for water and 8% for sewer going into effect July 1st, and then ratchet it up from there in future years. Gross said he’d prefer to minimize the use of loans which can greatly increase the cost of the project.
The council endorsed that idea, admitting that it’s a race against time to replace the town’s sewer and water lines before things get so bad that even band aids won’t work. The council also expressed an interest in setting up a fund to help low income seniors pay the higher rate. Gross said he would soon be back before the council with more answers.