Egremont weighs spending town funds to clear water department debt


EGREMONT -- Residents will decide at Annual Town Meeting next month whether town funds should be used to erase $110,050 of debt from the Egremont Water Department.

The article is one of 16 on the warrant for the meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. May 6 in the cafeteria at Mount Everett Regional High School.

Customers of the Egremont Water Co. currently pay $40 a month, on top of their service bill, toward the debt obligation. These monthly debt payments are covering operating expenses and they aren't making a dent on the debt, said Selectwoman Mary Brazie.

"I think it's the only way the water department will be solvent," she said.

Customers already pay some of the highest rates in the state, she said, so increasing the rates shouldn't be an option.

The Finance Committee voted 4-0 against the assumption of the debt. There was one member absent.

Laura Allen, a member of the committee, wrote in an e-mailed statement the department is an enterprise fund, and should be operating on its own revenue.

"The water department has been mismanaged for years, and it should get its house in order before asking the taxpayers to fund any part of its cost, let alone a very large part that may have no relationship to what it needs."

Residents also will decide whether to implement the Community Preservation Act, which would add a 3 percent surcharge on their annual real estate tax levy beginning in fiscal year 2016. The funds would be used for the acquisition, preservation or restoration of property, artifacts, or grounds -- and receive matching funds from the state.

Before the CPA can be implemented, voters need to approve the CPA tax in two other town meetings planned for the Nov. 5 town elections and Annual Town Meeting in 2015.

Article 13 would request $41,000 to install solar power panels at the Egremont Water Co. The solar panels would be funded through the Solarize Mass program, which would provide a subsidy and limit the town's expenses to about $25,000.

The town's proposed budget is $3.77 million, or a 4.6 percent increase over the previous year. Funding for litigation was increased from $5,000 to $20,000 to fund a lawsuit filed against the town by former Police Chief Reena Bucknell.

In the lawsuit, Bucknell has asserted a right to back pay from her current contract and a severance package following her termination after a consultant's report was critical of her management.

The Zoning Board of Appeals also is dealing with a case that could become a legal suit, according to Brazie.

There is also an increase of more than $12,000 -- to $17,177 -- for building improvements to pay for a section of ceiling repair at Town Hall.

2014 Egremont Town Meeting Warrant

To reach John Sakata:

or (413) 496-6240.

On Twitter: @jsakata


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