COVENTRY — The Rhode Island Auditor General has agreed to look further into issues with the town of Coventry’s sewer fund.
In January the town’s local delegation, including Senator Lou Raptakis, Patricia Morgan, Michael Chippendale, Robert Nardolillo, Jared Nunes, Sherry Roberts, Patricia Serpa, requested that Auditor General Dennis E. Hoyle conduct an investigation into the operation of the town’s sewer program and enterprise fund, which is running an annual deficit, according to town officials. Councilors Debra Bacon and Karen Carlson also sent their own letter in support of the delegation’s request.
In a letter dated April 4, Hoyle said his office will be moving forward to address issues related to the town’s sewer fund as well as “related operational issues.” He included a list of the work that has been performed by his office to date, and plans to draw on data and information from Citrin Cooperman, the firm the town hired in January to perform a review of the program for $37,000.
Hoyle reportedly met with Senator Raptakis and James LeBlanc, a Coventry resident who led community opposition to the sewer program operations. He also met with the town manager, solicitor and finance director to “discuss all aspects of the challenges facing the Coventry Sewer Program.”
Hoyle plans to set up additional meetings with town management, including the solicitor and finance director. Coventry Town Manager Graham Waters recently put in a letter of resignation indicating his last day would be April 13 and the town is amidst a search for an Interim Town Manager.
Hoyle will be requesting from the town a cash flow budget for the sewer fund to assess Coventry’s ability to pay back its debt. In June of 2017 the town had about $29,161,149 in sewer debt.
The town council voted unanimously in October 2017 to suspend its sewer construction work following outrage from residents about the cost – approximately $20,000 or more per property.
Hoyle’s letter states that he will be requesting documentation from the town on how it determines the cost to connect to the sewer lines, which was a major point of contention late last year when the town was completing line installations. He will also “assess the reasonableness” of the town’s strategy for where to expand its sewer lines, as well as possible strategies to reduce the cost to individual homeowners to tie in. Finally, Hoyle said he will make recommendations to the town on how to move forward.
“I have been talking about this for months and asked the Auditor General to get involved for the reason this entire program has been out of control,” said Raptakis in a statement Friday. “Residents like Jamie Leblanc came forward, spoke out about this sewer program and took abuse from town officials. Other residents came to us because they were not getting a fair hearing from the Sewer Board and town officials, so we asked the Auditor General to get involved.”
“When the public has questions about a project like this and can’t get straight answers, it’s a clear sign that something is wrong and I’m grateful to the Auditor General for helping us get on the road to fixing this,” Raptakis added.
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