More than 100 Princeton homeowners recently received proposed sewer inspection and repair bills from the town that were more than a decade old. It turns out those old assessments were just the beginning.
Officials said Monday at the Princeton Council meeting that more than 300 property owners in the town are affected by the assessment and billing debacle.
Earlier this month, more than 100 homeowners from Harris Road, Hillside Road, Loomis Court, Oakland Street, Cuyler Road and Walnut Lane received decade-old proposed bills ranging from about $50 to more than $1,000.
About 100 homeowners from the Tyson Lane, Littlebrook Road, Abernathy Drive and Clover Lane area who had sewer laterals inspected and replaced in 2008 will receive proposed assessments in September. A third group of about another hundred property owners in the Gallup Road, Westerly Road, Grover Avenue, Roper Road and Battle Road neighborhoods will received proposed assessments in September for work done between 2010 to 2012. The town also needs to bill homeowners in the Park Place neighborhood for sewer work done in that neighborhood a year ago.
The Princeton Council is slated to review and vote on the proposed assessments at its public meeting on Oct. 12. Once the council approves the assessments, final bills will go out to all of the property owners.
Hough said officials will be proactive with the next groups and send out a general letter explaining the process this time around, before propsed assessments are sent out.
The sewer project bills fell through the cracks because they were never confirmed by the Princeton Board of Improvement Assessors, Administrator Marc Dashield said.
“We are now in process of correcting that situation. We understand it is a serious situation, We are taking corrective steps to address the issue,” Dashield said. “We are reviewing our processes so as we move forward we can make sure this does not happen in the future.”
Councilwoman Jo Butler asked what “never confirmed” means.
The board of assessors, which is led by Princeton Tax Assessor Neal Snyder, does not have regular meetings. The meeting this August was the first one since consolidation. The board never issued the proposed assessments or sought the approval of the governing body for the final assessments.
“The assessor calls the meetings. It kept getting pushed back,” Princeton Chief Financial Officer Kathy Monzo said. “That office has a lot of assessment work to do. Bu it shouldn’t have taken 10 years.”
Butler asked what triggered the realization that the assessments never went out to homeowners.
“We’ve kind of known all along it’s been out there,” Monzo said. “It just hadn’t been done.”
Even though the board of improvement assessors never issued the proposed assessments or sought the approval of the governing body for the final assessments, officials claim the prospective assessments still should have shown up on title searches for residents who bought homes after the projects were done.
“Realistically what happens is the title companies do not do an official search,” Monzo said. “It does not relieve title companies from their responsibility. Homeowners may have a claim with their title insurance companies. It should have shown up on the title.”
Princeton Director of Infrastructure and Operations Bob Hough said the town is trying to put mechanisms in place so the delayed billing issue will never happen again.
Officials said the board of improvement assessors should schedule yearly meetings so the billing delays do not happen again.
“If we have regular meeting once or twice a year this won’t happen again,” Monzo said, adding that the town should set a policy that six months to a year from the completion of a project, the project must be part of the billing process.
Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller asked if the town apologized in the recent letter to residents about the decade-long billing delay.
“An apology in a letter would go a long way in easing the situation,” she said. “I’d be pretty upset if I receive a bill…It’s a major screw up. It shouldn’t be compounded by not apologizing. It will help people not be really mad at us.”
Hough said an apology was not offered.
Asked how much the sewer repairs cost, Hough estimated that the dollar amount at stake in the first round of assessments was about $100,000. The cost for inspections and sewer lateral replacements is based on the length of the sewer line for each property. He did not have estimates for the other projects.
“The good news is that the contractor gave us very good prices,” he said.