Egremont water worker under fire of 'vastly incorrect' billing


EGREMONT -- A water department employee is under fire for billing errors that have caused customers to be undercharged for years, according to Egremont officials.

The water commissioners, who oversee the Egremont Water Co., agreed on Thursday to strip the employee, Jack Muskrat, of any billing duties.

The Board of Selectmen will meet with Egremont water commissioners at 7 p.m. Monday to sort out the problem. Muskrat will meet with Selectmen at 7:30 p.m.

"We're working on an alternate employment plan for Jack," said Water Commission Chairman Steve Agar.

Muskrat, the former water company administrator, resigned last summer but was later rehired in the diminished capacity he currently holds. Muskrat did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The billing problems were disclosed to town employees last week by Bill Ray from Ti-Sales, which operates the town's meter-reading software, Neptune.

"Bill agrees that the usage we have been billing for is vastly incorrect and that when we send bills out using the correct readings people are ‘going to burn down Town Hall,' " according to a memo to selectmen written by board secretary Mary Brazie.

Muskrat apparently was using a "default meter reading" to calculate the bills for a long time, according to Brazie.

"It looks to [Ray] from doing a quick audit of the computer programs that Jack has been pulling a default meter reading that is empty ... ," she wrote. "This empty file was then forcing [the billing program] to run estimated bills."

Muskrat has declined assistance from Ray in the past, claiming he "knew what he was doing," according to Brazie's memo.

In January, an audit by Melanson, Heath & Co. of Greenfield revealed that customers have been undercharged for years -- a total of $104,557 from fiscal 2011 through 2013 -- because monthly bills were not sent out. The result is a budget deficit instead of a surplus in each year, according to the audit.

In 2011, eight bills were sent out; nine bills were sent in 2012; and 10 bills in 2013. Town Hall has assumed the responsibilities of billing in fiscal 2014. The town also is in the process of installing a new utility billing program, which will provide a more accurate reading of bills in June, Agar said.

Agar said it was possible that Selectmen could fire Muskrat.

"The Selectmen have to make the decision. We don't make that decision," Agar said.

Selectman Charlie Flynn attended the Thursday meeting and he called on Muskrat to resign.

"The majority of problems can directly be attributed to Jack," Flynn said on Friday. "It really bothers me that we are almost acting like water commissioners and that's what we have them there for."

Brazie, who also serves as a selectwoman, was more critical of water commissioners.

"I think [Muskrat's] supervisors are the water commissioners and we should rely on the water commissioners to ensure he is doing his job," Brazie said.

To reach John Sakata:
or (413) 496-6240.
On Twitter: @jsakata


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