Water Rates Update: Selectmen Embarrassed / Petition Article Status

1) Selectmen Embarrassed: Errors in Reporting Average Residential Water Consumption

Town officials originally created separate, higher water rates for residential vs commercial customers because they wanted to encourage residential conservation sufficient to get average consumption below the state-imposed average of 65 gallons per person per day.

But the town average has been at or below 55 gallons per person per day since 2010, and has remained there since. Yet the selectmen imposed punitive rate increases on many residential customers in 2012 and again this year. Meanwhile many commercial customers continue to have lower water bills than residential customers with the same consumption levels.

I emailed these facts to the selectmen on March 16, along with the supporting evidence, including that from the Town Manager’s own August 2015 memo to the selectmen on water rates. At the selectmen’s March 22 meeting they deliberately misrepresented my email to be an inquiry asking for information so that they and the Town Manager could delay acknowledging that they had put out erroneous information, which helped justify their latest drastic rate increases for many residential customers. Evidently they are too embarrassed, and too arrogant, to admit mistakes.

2) Water Rates Petition Article

In my last article titled ‘Shrewsbury Needs Water Rate Reform’, I said I would place a petition article on the warrant for the Annual Town Meeting that would address the inequities in the new water rates. As of the March 22 meeting of the selectmen, the following petition article will appear on the warrant as Article 14:

“To see if the Town will vote to amend the General By-Laws of the Town of Shrewsbury, Article 4-J Water Department by adding the following:

WATER RATES

All proposed changes to water rates must be approved by a majority vote of  Town Meeting before they take effect.

,or to take any other action in relation thereto.”

I purposely kept the article simple to minimize possible legal issues. Its purpose is clear. Town Meeting is the town’s legislative body. Almost everyone in town pays water fees, and these fees have become a significant cost for many residential users. The selectmen have abused their authority by creating a huge, unjustified disparity between residential and commercial rates. Therefore, just like property taxes, water rate changes should be subject to debate and approval at Town Meeting, where their inequities can be fully exposed and corrected.

Note: Town officials have refused to ask Town Counsel to review this article for legality prior to the Annual Town Meeting, although the General Laws of Massachusetts seem clear: ‘The water commissioners … {are} … subject to all lawful by-laws and to such instructions, rules and regulations as the town may from time to time impose by its vote.” However, at Town Meeting the Town Counsel could opine that this article is not legal, but not provide an explanation that includes citing his sources; and based solely on this opinion, the Town Moderator could then decide not to allow any discussion or vote on this article. We shall see.

John Lukach, March 23, 2016