Selectmen: Let’s change way LCWD is run

Jan 10, 2019 by

Published January 9, 2019

By DAN TOMASELLO

LYNNFIELD — On Monday, the Board of Selectmen supported taking a two-prong approach in order to make changes to the way the Lynnfield Center Water District (LCWD) is governed.

Selectmen Chairman Dick Dalton and Selectman Phil Crawford voted 2-0 to submit proposed legislative changes to the LCWD’s enabling act to the town’s legislative delegation. Selectman Chris Barrett was unable to attend the meeting due to personal reasons.

Town Administrator Rob Dolan gave an overview of the proposed legislative changes to the selectmen, which were crafted by Town Counsel Tom Mullen.

“Over the last several months, under direction of the chairman, we have been asked to develop special legislation to petition the General Court of the Commonwealth to make changes to the governance of the Lynnfield Center Water District,” said Dolan. “The Lynnfield Center Water District was created by an act of the legislature as an independent agency.”

Dolan said the proposed special legislation includes several different components that include prohibiting LCWD employees from serving on the Board of Water Commissioners. Retired LCWD Superintendent Ken Burnham served almost two terms as a water commissioner while simultaneously leading the district.

“That is standard operating practice to avoid conflicts of interest and ethics violations,” said Dolan about the proposed legislative change.

Dolan also said the proposed legislation would change the makeup of the LCWD board. While the Board of Water Commissioners will remain a three-member board, Dolan said the legislation calls for one member to be appointed by the Board of Selectmen.

“It will be for a term of three years,” said Dolan. “The other two water commissioners will continue to be elected with staggered terms of three-years each in the same manner as has been done previously.”

Dolan said the third proposed change entails having the water commissioners appoint a superintendent to a three-year contract. Burnham served as superintendent for 45 years.

“The superintendent would manage the affairs of the district, subject to the general direction of the water commissioners,” said Dolan. “However, whenever there is a vacancy in the position of superintendent, they shall create a five-person search committee to screen candidates for such a position.”

Dolan said the proposed legislation would have the water commissioners appoint two members to a search committee. He said the legislation would have the Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee and town moderator each appoint one member to the search committee.

The TA said the proposed legislation would require the water commissioners to schedule a special district meeting if 50 or more ratepayers submit a citizens’ petition in writing requesting a meeting.

“Currently, there is nothing in the district’s rules that call for that,” said Dolan.

Lastly, Dolan said the proposed legislation would mandate that the LCWD water commissioners publish an annual district report that would be presented to the selectmen each April.

“The report would include the latest annual audit of the district’s accounts, the water commissioners’ operating budget and capital budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and the minutes of all district meetings since the last report,” said Dolan. “The operating budget shall include the salaries and all employment-related benefits offered to all employees of the district, and shall be presented in any format reasonably requested by the Board of Selectmen. The water commissioners shall prepare and approve and, from time-to-time, revise a manual of policies and procedures for use by the district which shall include best practices regarding human resources, procurement and compliance with all applicable laws.”

After Dolan concluded giving an overview of the proposed legislative changes to the LCWD, Dalton and Crawford voted to send the proposed legislation to the town’s lawmakers.

Citizens’ petition

In addition to the proposed legislative changes to the LCWD’s governance, Dalton and Crawford plan on submitting a citizens’ petition requesting another special district meeting during the water commissioners’ Jan. 14 meeting. The LCWD board meeting will take place in the Lynnfield Middle School cafeteria, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Dalton said the citizens’ petition would include four components including the request for a special district meeting. Additionally, he said the petition will request that the water commissioners schedule a special election in order to fill Burnham’s seat on the board.

“Thirdly, there would be no action on the hiring of a superintendent until after the annual meeting in April so the board would be constituted at that point,” said Dalton.

Dalton said the citizens’ petition’s fourth component seeks to allocate funds in order to purchase water filtration systems for the homes that have had “significant water discoloration problems and water quality problems.”

Residents weigh-in

Patrice Lane resident Pat Campbell criticized the selectmen’s proposals.

“You are going to go right to the legislature without talking with the Lynnfield Center Water District members?” Campbell asked. “I find that rather startling. You need to go to members of the water district before you go to the legislature.”

Crawford said the proposed legislation would “bring the water district into compliance with how the town is run and how municipalities are run.”

“This is something that is long overdue and should have been addressed years ago,” said Crawford. “The water issues have brought it to a point where we have to take care of it now.”

Crawford said allocating funds for the purchase of water filtration systems for residents who have had discolored water “is something that should be addressed.” He noted the LCWD’s $200 rebate program does not cover the costs for a filter’s installation.

“I think the funds allocated for that need to be significantly increased,” said Crawford.

In addition to the proposed legislation and citizens’ petition, Lowell Street resident Walter Radulski criticized the LCWD’s new billing system. He said his bill has increased “475 percent.”

“That was across the board,” said Radulski.

Radulski said the LCWD stated in its June 29, 2018 bill that the district would be increasing rates in order to “encourage water conservation, build the new treatment plant and explore the viability of other water sources.”

“I understand there is no new water treatment plant,” said Radulski. “I would like to know where this money is going. I also understand we pay a water tax as part of our property taxes. There is a lot of money going to this water district.”

LCWD Assistant Superintendent Nick Couris explained the new billing system in an interview with the Villager.

“The Board of Water Commissioners voted to change the water rate structure and the tiers that go along with it,” said Couris. “It goes along with them changing the tax rate, so it puts more of the burden on the people who use more water.”

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