Thursday, May 21, 2015

Letter to the Editor- Curt M. Freedman

The following  "letter to the editor" was submitted to LongmeadowBuzz by Curt M. Freedman
24 Ridge Road
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Tel: 413/567-1175
May 18, 2015

Dear Longmeadow Residents:

I wish to thank all the dedicated citizens that attended the Annual Town Meeting on May 12th and voted against Article 23.  As it was rejected by an overwhelming margin, the interests of our community were clearly served by its defeat.  For anyone not familiar with Article 23, it called for an amendment to our General By-Law that historically established water and sewer fees based on measured use.   If the By-Law amendment had passed, the plan was for our water/sewer bills to instead have an unprecedented $360 fixed fee plus a $2.00 charge for each unit of water used.  Many homeowners would have received unjustified increases ranging from 30% to 145% or more.  Even worse, the policy change would have hurt conservation efforts by diminishing the incremental unit costs from $5.13 per ccf to $2.00 per ccf (1 ccf = 748 gal).  A unit of water conserved would then only save  $2.00 instead of $5.13 ($2.78/ccf water + $2.35/ccf sewer); any investment in low flow toilets, water efficient washing machines, rain barrels, conservation shower heads, or other household water conservation equipment would have had an economic payback some 2.5 times longer.  The proposed rate was clearly anti-conservation and also served to economically dis-incentivize the investment and installation of wells for irrigation. Even though Article 23 was defeated, our existing water and sewer (W&S) rate inequity problems regretfully still persist.  Our on-going sewer cap policy causes those who water their lawns to unfairly pay additional sewer fees since excess sewer fees are paid for watering grass and washing cars with no water ever discharging into a sewer drain pipe; such unfair policies are a classic example of Undue Rate Discrimination.  The existing sewer cap policy typically results in a town-wide subsidization of approximately $585,000 per year.  As ridiculous as it may sound, the truth is that some 33% of our total sewer department revenue is actually paid by people watering their lawns.  The excess sewer revenue from residential customers watering their lawns also serves to subsidize the sewer bills of the non-residential customers with homeowners paying for 33% of the sewer bills for all the commercial customers in town.  Yes, our local restaurants serving $50-$85 per plate sushi, steak, and lobster tails are having their sewer bills subsidized by the homeowner watering their subsistence vegetable garden and/or lawn.  In order to establish fair water rates for all customers, residential customers need to be given the opportunity to utilize irrigation water meters since the cost of service for irrigation (only water, no sewer service) is different than household water use (water & sewer).  Irrigation water meters will provide the only method of accurately documenting irrigation water use which is approximately 41% of the total annual use.  Our present sewer cap policy creates an unfair level of subsidization and would not be consistent with MGL c. 41: § 69B  and MGL c. 83: §16 that require that W&S charges be  “JUST (FAIR) AND EQUITABLE.”  In addition, since we as a community voted to establish the water and sewer departments as “Enterprise Funds” under G.L.c.44, § 53F1/2, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue guidelines state that, “The fees imposed for any municipal service must comply with legal standards.” Irrigation water meters have been utilized by commercial customers in Longmeadow for several decades.  Irrigation meters for residential customers are common practice in Agawam, Chicopee, Ludlow, and Springfield; it is long overdue that Longmeadow W&S policy become “just and equitable.”

The Longmeadow Finance Committee in their recent 2015 annual report stated the following, “The Finance Committee encourages the Select Board (Water & Sewer Commissioners) to form a (Water & Sewer) advisory committee to (i) review the anticipated capital improvements; and (ii) make recommendations for the proper rates to build a capital improvement reserve fund.”  As an economic good, our water/sewer system must be managed and maintained properly and remain financially accessible through fair and equitable rates for maximum utilization to minimize cost. 

Please contact our Water & Sewer Commissioners, who also serve as our Board of Selectmen (specific email addresses may be found at: OR snail-mail to: Longmeadow Town Hall, 20 Williams Street), and let our elected officials know how you feel on these issues.