Seaford referendum fails, City's plan to borrow $1.9 million for water meters is rejected

By Lynn R. Parks

The city of Seaford's plan to borrow $1.9 million to install water meters in its homes is dead. Monday's referendum on the plan failed by a vote of 87 to 45. Tuesday morning, Mayor Bill Bennett expressed disappointment in the vote. He said that the loan that had been offered to the state, with a 1-percent interest rate and forgiveness of 35 percent of the principal, had terms that might not come along again soon. We are never going to get that deal again, he said. I just hope that in four or five years, water meters aren't mandated and we end up paying full price for them. Bennett attributed the no votes to several things. A lot of people thought that their water bills would go sky-high, he said. In addition, people didn't like the idea of government mandates about water usage, he added. A lot of people don't like [environmental agencies like] the EPA and DNREC telling people what to do, and they thought that with meters, that would come, Bennett said. The people who opposed it were the ones who came out to vote, he added. Ted Gruwell, who lives on Bradford Street, voted against the referendum. He said that he didn't trust the city to be able to administer the meters properly. He also felt that the meters would mean higher water bills. I would support meters if there wasn't a minimum monthly charge, he said.

But with the city's plan to have a base rate for usage up to a certain amount plus a charge for additional usage over that amount, I believe that everybody in the city would be paying more. The city had planned to install 1,758 residential meters and meter pits. In addition, 350 meters would have been installed on newer homes that already have meter pits. Commercial properties in Seaford already have metered water. During an April public hearing on the project, city manager Dolores Slatcher said that Seaford is the last large municipality in the state without water meters. Having water meters would encourage conservation, Slatcher said. They would also allow the city to better detect water leaks and better monitor its water usage, something that is becoming increasingly important if the city wants to qualify for state and federal money for infrastructure projects. The $1.9 million loan that the city planned to use for the project is federal money, left over from the government's stimulus package and administered by the state. The city would have paid 1-percent interest on the loan and at the conclusion of the project, 35 percent of the principal would have been forgiven. In addition, the city would not have had to pay closing costs. With those terms, the city would have paid $68,421 per year on the 20-year loan. That money would have been collected through residents' water and sewer bills at the rate of $1.57 per month.

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