How the hell did this happen? According to Express Times reporter Doug Brill, a $5.8 million project suddenly became a $9 million venture because someone screwed up estimating the cost to lay pipes. Believe it or not, civil engineer Derek Hughes actually lists the Portland sewer project as an accomplishment. It's actually a disaster that has hurt people on limited incomes, which is most of this tiny borough.
$6.46 million of this money is borrowed and, according to Brill, "even if everyone paid his or her sewer bill on time -- including the 30 property owners who wound up on the delinquent list -- the borough would not collect enough money per month to cover the upper end of its projected [loan] payments." So basically, borough residents are being squeezed.
Consider the case of one woman. A college secretary on a limited income, her water was going to be shut off because she was six days delinquent. Her savings were wiped out, literally flushed down the toilet.
Hook-up fees are $1,500. Construction of laterals can cost much more, as much as $7,000.
When this sewer project first started, Northampton County made some CDBG money available for people seeking grants for a hook-up. While borough officials told discouraged some residents from applying, they made sure to take care of themselves. Mayor Kay Bucci took a grant. Borough Council Prez. Sherma Godshalk, who just happens to be the meter reader, got 5 free hook-ups for herself and her family. Councilman Tom Fish, unemployed at the time, legitimately qualified for a grant. Then, before he received it, he got a job as a Bangor teacher. He took the money anyway. Councilman Steve Knott thought he turned down the money, but the grant was included in the closing costs of a home he bought or re-financed.
On Thursday night, Northampton County Council voted unanimously to apply $36,000 in CDBG money "to offset the cost of the construction of sewage laterals for all remaining income-qualified homeowner-occupants when connecting to the sewer system."
"Portland's out of control," commented Prez Ron Angle.