Water rates come into question at Selectmen’s meeting

Oct 20, 2020

MARION — What started out as a nearly $4,000 water abatement denial at an Oct. 20 Selectmen’s meeting, turned into a discussion of the town’s costly water and sewer projects.

Resident Bernard Greenwood pleaded his case to the Board that he shouldn’t have to pay his nearly $4,000 water and sewage bill because the water used at his home never went into the sewage system. As someone who grows fruits and vegetables, he would water his plants for one hour on Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday. Around the house, he collected excess water from places like the shower and dishwasher when they were warming up before use, and reused it to water plants and for his dog to drink.

“I really feel that you guys are pulling a fast one on me” and other residents, citing a recent rise in water bills to cover the cost of projects like lining of the lagoon in the wastewater treatment plant and replacement of the water lines on Route 6.

“I’ve been paying taxes for 40 years and you’re going to screw me over this?” Greenwood asked the Board.

But Selectmen painted a larger picture of the situation, one that takes into account the many factors behind the rate increase. 

“We feel like we’re in between a rock and a hard place,” Vice Chair John Waterman said. 

He explained that the town is being mandated by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency to spend $8 million on these two projects. 

The town had to take on that debt to fund the overdue work. 

Waterman went on to say that the water pipes in the town are 50+ years old and are undersized for the capacity that is needed.

And because of the pandemic, some places in town, such as Tabor Academy, used less water.

With the amount of water the school uses each year, they pay some of the highest bills in town. But their water usage was down 13% during covid while campus was closed.

This decreased revenue in the water and sewer enterprise fund. 

The drought also increased water usage in town to 19%, which is naturally causing a rise in water bills alongside the increase in rates to cover the debt.

“We’re not here sucking our thumbs and ignoring these issues,” Selectman Norm Hills said. 

In fact, Waterman said the town has to temporarily forego other water projects that need to be done in order to lessen the debt burden on residents. 

In all of this, Waterman said the state isn’t giving the town funding to help pay for these mandated projects.

“We feel helpless and we’re not getting any help,” he said.

“How can we help?,” Greenwood asked.

Selectmen and Town Administrator Jay McGrail suggested residents send letters to local State Representative Bill Straus or Governor Charlie Baker to ask for aid. Waterman even suggested sending resident water bills to them.

Selectmen ultimately denied Greenwood’s abatement request on the grounds that the Board does not give abatements for outside water usage.