To the editor:
As that Great Spirit of American conservatism said to Jimmy Carter in 1980: “There you go again” making false and misleading accusations. Bill Burns, in a recent letter, quotes at length from an email that I sent a few years ago to the Division of Municipal Services of the State Department of Revenue (not Department of Environmental Protection as Mr. Burns states) requesting information on possible sources of local revenue that towns like Westport might employ for funding the cost of local wastewater treatment facility improvements. How he obtained a copy of that email I don’t know. But Mr. Burns seems to see that message as a sinister request that was ultimately intended to impose sewers on the whole town of Westport, an objective that he and his friend Claude Ledoux repeatedly, but falsely, accuse me of secretly pursuing.
As I stated once again in a recent letter to the editor, I have always opposed town-wide sewering in Westport. But I have supported localized efforts to upgrade failed local wastewater treatment facilities, on either an individual or cluster basis, in those areas of town that are the most serious sources of pollutants that harm our drinking-water aquifers and our waterways. And I have said repeatedly that all parts of the town should pay a significant share of the costs of these local upgrades. In concrete terms that means that I and Mr. Burns and Mr. Ledoux and all of us inhabitants of the southern part of Westport and also many in the northern part should pay a significant share of the costs of wastewater upgrades that are needed most urgently and are mainly concentrated in a few locations in the northern part of Westport. I would be interested to know whether Mr. Burns and Mr. Ledoux agree with this principle of fairness.
Selectman Vieira similarly accused me of improprieties when I once asked a question of a state official at an open meeting in the Selectmen’s office about possible sources of funds for providing extra incentives for anyone who might install denitrifying wastewater treatments systems as a way of supporting the objectives of the Estuaries Project. Somehow Mr. Vieira regarded my requests for information as inappropriate.
Subsequently on April 17, 2012, on a motion made by Mr. Vieira, the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to use funds from the old Community Septic Betterment Program to provide specific incentives for individual homeowners or groups of homeowners who installed such denitrifying systems. But the Selectmen seem to have immediately forgotten that they ever adopted such a motion as it has not been mentioned, much less implemented since. The new Water Resources Management Committee, on which Mr. Vieira sits, has on various occasions discussed how this town-owned fund of some $130,000 might be used without ever noting the decision already taken by the Selectmen on Mr. Vieira’s motion.
At about the same time that I was asking the Department of Revenue about possible sources of funding for local wastewater system improvements, the state legislature was creating a special Commission on Water Infrastructure Finance and appointing Senator James Eldridge as chair and Representative Carolyn Dykema as vice-chair, and charging that commission “to develop a comprehensive, long-range water infrastructure finance plan for the commonwealth and municipalities.”
That commission and its working groups held many meetings from May 2010 to February 2012 and I attended most of them on my own dime. I also encouraged Sen. Rodrigues and Rep. Schmid to attend. The commission completed its report a year ago and it is posted on line at http://mwwa.memberclicks.net/assets/documents/wifc_report.pdf>
On January 18, Rep. Dykema introduced four bills in the House that are designed to implement the recommendations of the commission and address the problems of financing needed improvements in water and wastewater systems throughout the state. One of these bills, No. 687, would authorize towns to “collect a reasonable charge to be used exclusively for measures to remedy and offset the impacts on the natural environment of new and/or increased water withdrawals, sewering, wastewater discharges … and to sustain the quantity, quality and ecological health of the waters of the commonwealth.” And also that “the charge shall be assessed in a fair and equitable manner.”
My main reason for attending those meetings was to put forward the concerns and needs of towns like Westport that do not now have, and probably never should have, sizeable public water and wastewater systems and therefore could not rely on additional fees for such services as a way of funding needed improvements. I believe that imposing a small surcharge on the property tax is probably the fairest way of sharing the burden of improving water and wastewater facilities for individual properties or groups of properties. There are also other possibilities for raising local revenues, such as impact fees on new construction and development, that are provided for in the draft bill and might be more acceptable in a town like Westport.
So, yes, for the past three years the lLegislature and the Water Infrastructure Finance Commission have been striving to come up with answers to the kinds of questions that I posed to the Department of Revenue, but for the whole Commonwealth. And, yes, I have been reminding the commission and our legislators that they need to incorporate provisions that will meet the special needs of towns like Westport. I have been doing this partly in my past role as a member of the Westport Estuaries Project Committee and more recently as a member of the Westport Planning Board, but mainly as a private citizen with some knowledge of public finance trying to find appropriate solutions for some of the financial problems facing my community and similar communities across Massachusetts. How sinister can it get?
David C. Cole