Commissioners repeal LCWD rate hike

Jan 31, 2019 by

Published January 30, 2019

By DAN TOMASELLO

LYNNFIELD — In the midst of a growing backlash from angry ratepayers, the Lynnfield Center Water District (LCWD) commissioners voted to repeal a controversial rate increase on Monday night.

Ratepayers have been infuriated with the rate increase since they started receiving bills in December. After a large group of angry ratepayers gave the board an earful about the water bill spike and questioned its legality earlier this month, LCWD attorney Chris Casey began re-examining the rate hike.

“One of the issues was the retroactivity of it,” said Casey. “I have looked at the vote and all of the meeting minutes over the past year. Without a question, both in September and in November, there is a vote to affirmatively increase the rates. But what the meeting minutes lack is the specific three-tier system. Out of an abundance of caution, I have directed the commissioners that the vote for the implementation of the rate increase is not proper.”

Water Commissioner Richard Lamusta made a motion to repeal the new rate increase and have the LCWD issue new invoices to ratepayers based on the fiscal year 2018 rate structure. He said new bills will be sent to ratepayers by Feb. 28 and will be due by March 31.

Water Commission Chairwoman Connie Leccese seconded the motion and it passed 2-0.

In response to a question from Russet Lane resident Stephanie Rauseo about reimbursing ratepayers who have already paid their bills, Leccese said the LCWD is working to find a solution.

“We are working with our accountant on how the logistics and mechanics will work,” said Leccese. “We will have all of that information on Feb. 11. If someone requests a check, we will certainly issue a check.”

Wymon Way resident Rob Almy thanked the water commissioners for repealing the rate increase.

“I think the board has taken an appropriate action,” said Almy. “From my experience with other politicians, it takes a fair amount of fortitude to be able to stand in front of your constituents and say maybe we should do this differently.”

A group of ratepayers filed a warrant article for the Feb. 25 special district meeting that sought to repeal the rate increase, but Casey prohibited Article 4 from being included on the warrant because it violated the LCWD’s enabling act. He said Article 4 sought to usurp the water commissioners’ authority to set water rates.

The Board of Selectmen was considering filing a preliminary injunction against the water commissioners that would have sought to nullify the rate increase, but Town Administrator Rob Dolan said the lawsuit will not be moving forward. In an interview with the Villager, Selectmen Chairman Dick Dalton said the commissioners’ decision to repeal the rate increase was “a victory for ratepayers.”

Leccese resigns

In addition to the water commissioners’ decision to scrap the rate increase, Leccese announced she will be resigning from the board on March 31. She has served as a water commissioner for the past five years.

“After much consideration, I have decided to resign from my position as commissioner and chairwoman of the Board of Water Commissioners of the Lynnfield Center Water District, effective March 31, 2019,” Leccese stated in a letter sent to Lamusta. “This has been a difficult decision for me. As you know, the demands placed on the commissioners have escalated dramatically over the past year. This is a complex organization serving a diverse customer base. I feel the district would be better served by a commissioner with more time to devote to the mission of the organization. It has truly been an honor to serve my community.”

The water commissioners have scheduled a special district meeting in order to fill the remaining two years of Leccese’s term, which will take place on Monday, April 1, beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Lynnfield Middle School cafeteria. Lamusta said the special district meeting will be held before the annual special district meeting that commences that same night. He said prospective candidates must submit a letter of intent to the LCWD by Friday, March 1.

Leccese noted Lamusta’s term is set to expire on April 1 and the election for his seat will take place during the annual meeting.

“(Lamusta) can run again if he so chooses,” said Leccese.

West Tapley Road resident Lisa Lopez inquired if any other ratepayers expressed interest in running for water commissioner during the Feb. 25 special district meeting.

Leccese said two candidates expressed interest, but she did not reveal their names publicly. Subsequently, Almy and Carol Ann Road resident Joe Maney Jr. both stood up and told the large crowd of attendees they have expressed interest in running for water commissioner. The two candidates are looking to fill former LCWD Superintendent/Water Commissioner Ken Burnham’s seat on the board.

Huckleberry Hill Road resident Kendall Inglese said Lynnfield Media Studios should broadcast a debate between the two candidates.

“This should be on TV so everybody in the district can be informed,” said Inglese.

Leccese said the water commissioners will reach out to Lynnfield Media Studios about the request.

In response to a question from a woman in the audience, Leccese said the commissioners are paid stipends. She said the board’s chairman receives a $2,900 stipend annually and the other two board members each receive a $2,400 stipend annually.

“In terms of who becomes the chairperson, generally it’s the most senior position,” said Leccese.

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