Friday, April 26, 2013

Selectman Sweeney and the MWRA

As we enter the final days of the 2013 town election, the issue of water and sewer rates has become a key factor in the Selectman’s race.

At the first debate of the campaign, challenger Katie Conlon criticized Incumbent Selectman Sweeney for voting no on approval of the water and sewer rates in 2011. She properly noted that his vote had no effect on water charges from the MWRA - charges that everyone would like to lower - and in fact could have had serious consequences if the board as a whole had followed his lead.

Approving water and sewer rates is essential for the town to collect sufficient revenue to cover the water and sewer bill from the MWRA, as well as local costs for maintaining our system.  Refusing to enact new rates results in a revenue shortfall, and the inability to pay the MWRA bill. The likely response to this empty gesture would have been the withholding of the funds necessary to cover the bill from the town’s allocation of State Aid.

Despite the obvious irresponsibility of this no vote, Selectman Sweeney touted his action as looking out for the average guy being hurt by high sewer and water rates.  No doubt he hoped that many average voters might be fooled by this populist appeal.  Last week the campaign took this argument to a whole new level.

In an article published in the Milton Times, Sweeney casts the MWRA as a villain in his expanding morality play.   He claims that the large increases in water use were not supported by “comparison data”.  But comparison data cannot tell you how much water a community used.  He then cites an investigation that found a defective water meter. The clear impression is conveyed that this meter accounted for the high water usage reported and that this justifies his vote on the rates.

What Selectman Sweeney hasn’t told us is that the town hired a consultant to look into MWRA billing. On the town’s behalf, a great deal of data was requested of the MWRA, who provided it to the consultant. In the many months since that time, the MWRA has not heard back from either the consultant or the town about the information provided. Nor has a report from the consultant been made public.  Was a report done?  If so, where is it and why hasn’t it been released?  If not, what was the consultant’s conclusion?

Even if Mr. Sweeney’s contention that a faulty water meter caused the spike in reported usage for 2011 is correct, his vote would still be irresponsible.  Problems with water meters are not unknown. The MWRA has a process to monitor and address community concerns about this kind of issue, and from time to time adjustments are made when an evidenced based argument is presented.  

But if Mr. Sweeney is correct, where is the evidence? If Milton’s 4.5% increase in flow for 2011 (while the MWRA system experienced a 3.1% decline) was caused by faulty equipment, why did flow increase yet again in 2012 above the level of 2011?

It would appear that Mr. Sweeney’s scapegoating of the MWRA is a carefully calculated effort to rouse the citizenry against a villain and cast himself as the hero protecting our pocketbooks –all in hopes of masking a lackluster term in office.
The Town Clerk's office has begun posting campaign finance reports, beginning with last Spring's Town Election, with some end of year reports as well. I'm sure political junkies will have fun looking at the amounts of money raised by the various candidates and information about contributors. For example, I noticed that Steve Connelly, developer of the ill-fated Hendries property, and currently threatening the town with a 40B development, donated $250 to Selectman Sweeney in November.
You can find the reports here:



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