New Haven officials hope to finalize in the next month a controversial plan to change how the city’s waste treatment is managed, setting up a potentially messy debate in the Board of Aldermen.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and leaders in East Haven, Hamden and Woodbridge said their efforts to establish a joint agency to handle sewage treatment for all four municipalities will cut costs and improve services. But some local residents, including members of the Board of Aldermen, have said the plan would reduce New Haven’s control over sewage treatment facilities located within its city limits.
City officials, however, said they are optimistic that the four municipalities can reach a final agreement in October that addresses the major concern of several aldermen, ensuring that New Haven selects a majority of the members on the new agency’s board. While the other cities currently pay New Haven’s Water Pollution Control Authority to treat their waste, the new entity would be jointly owned and operated by all four municipalities.
Under an initial proposal, New Haven would appoint four of the nine members on the board of the new entity, with the other five members distributed from the three neighboring towns.
Frank Altieri, the city’s acting budget director, said the plan would redress inequities under the current arrangement, under which the other towns have occasionally failed to pay the city to treat their waste. But Altieri also said any regionalization effort could raise delicate political questions.
“I’m very optimistic that at some point we’ll be able to work out a deal that satisfies everybody,” Altieri said. “I don’t think we’re at a point where we say we don’t have a deal. A lot of people have worked too hard, too long.”
The debate over regionalization has been complicated by questions surrounding New Haven’s budget for this year. The budget proposed by DeStefano and approved by the Board of Aldermen included a $7.2 million infusion of revenue from the sale of the city’s current water pollution authority to the new regional entity. But if the plan is not approved this year by the New Haven Board of Aldermen and at least one of the three other towns by the end of next June, the city will need to make up that $7.2 million — possibly through layoffs or a withdrawal from the city’s “rainy day fund.”
East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo said he expected regionalization to make water treatment in the New Haven area less costly and more efficient by pooling together infrastructure. At the same time, he said he expected the plan to face more political scrutiny in the Elm City than in East Haven.
“Discussions can be delicate at times, and the subject of regionalization in this area of the country is usually not something that is thought of in a positive way,” Maturo said. “We will have our detractors — we knew that going in, that for whatever reason they might be opposed to it.”
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said he was supportive of regionalization in principle and did not want to leave the city’s budget with a large hole. But he said he was concerned about whether the new agency would be able to expand the primary waste treatment facility on New Haven’s harbor against the will of local residents.
“We all want the deal to go through because we have a lot riding on it,” Healey said. “But nobody wants to accept something with short-term gains and long-term losses.”