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A Hummel Report Investigation

Hooking Up

Warwick sewer customers have seen a 100 percent increase in their usage bills over the past six years, under an aggressive program designed to chip away at a multi-million dollar deficit. This week Jim Hummel talks with one homeowner who was told by the Warwick Sewer Authority his house was going up for tax sale because he hadn't tied in - when it wasn't' true. Hear his story and the authority's response.

Click HERE to view the WSA letter of apology.

Click HERE to watch the extended interview with Janine Burke.

SCRIPT

The 30-year-old raised ranch was a good fit for Greg Chihoski and wife when they bought it back in 2009. Chihoski had some extra money at the closing so he paid off a $1,700 assessment for the sewer line that been installed in front of his house just south of Conimicut, even though he wasn't hooked in. After all, the DEM had tested his septic system and said it worked just fine.
Chihoski said he never expected to hear from the Warwick Sewer Authority again once he settled the debt. But a year and a half later he received a letter from the authority saying he had to hook up - and he was facing some serious penalties for not doing so.
Chihoski: ``We never had any notice in that year that this was happening. When I called about the assessment no one mentioned that. It was just boom, here's your violation. You're in violation of this - right away it said $1,000 fine and $100 for every 24 hours. So right away it's like `Whoa' what happened?''
Months turned into years and Chihoski said he couldn't get a straight answer from the Sewer Authority or City Hall. Then he heard nothing until this letter arrived June 3rd - saying his house was moving toward a tax sale in August - just 11  weeks away.
Chihoski panicked and went immediately to the City Hall where he said an employee in the tax collector's office confirmed his house was NOT on any tax sale list.
Chihoski: ``He asked to see the letter.  I showed him the letter he told me: `Save this for your lawyer.' He said this is a threat. They're trying to threaten you into paying this.''
Chihoski's case reflects the confusion we found throughout Warwick about who has to tie into the sewer system, which covers about 70 percent of the city. Many who are hooked into the system want to know why usage rates have increased more than 100 percent in the past six years. Still others want an audit of the sewer authority's books to see where millions of dollars of bond money have gone over the past two decades.
Durand: ``What corporation in American today could increase their rates by 100 percent in six years and still be in business?''
Roger Durand has helped gather 750 signatures on a petition calling for an audit. Durand would also like to see the WSA come directly under city control.
Durand: ``All you had to do was walk up to the door and say hi, introduce yourself and mention you have a petition regarding the WSA. You had to say no more. `Oh my God my rates keep coming up!''
Hummel: ``It's that bad?''

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