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Newport: A possible speed bump on the way to higher water and sewer fees

Sewer and water lines turning to mush after many decades in the ground throughout Newport.

Sewer and water lines turning to mush after many decades in the ground throughout Newport.

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Newport Public Works Director Tim Gross was again front-and-center before the city council Monday night to clarify the need for sewer, stormwater and water line replacements from one end of town to the other. Age of the pipes needing replacement range from 50 years to upwards of 70 in some areas.

Gross reviewed the arithmetic involved in the 15% hike in sewer and water bills, a 5% boost in storm water and a 5% increase for infrastructure. He said the bills, although rising, would not rise as much as some residents fear.

However, a few residents told the council that they simply cannot afford the higher rates and that the burden falls especially hard on seniors. At that point Councilor David Allen took command of the discussion by sympathizing with residents at the escalating rates and offered a new approach to the challenge. Allen suggested that the city form a task force to closely examine the options that could emerge to ease the burden on ratepayers by spreading the costs out in other ways – like tapping other city funds, including urban renewal which usually provides revenues for major capital projects in the interest of economic development.

The council all seemed to agree with Mr. Allen who presented a list of potential members for the task force which included himself, Councilor Laura Swanson, businesswoman and former City Councilor Patricia Patrick-Joling, businessman Fred Springsteen, Public Works Director Tim Gross, City Finance Director David Marshall and Community Development and Urban Renewal Director Derrick Tokos. There may be more.

The task force is expected to begin tackling the issue early next fiscal year which starts July 1st.

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