14 Apr 2012
(Note: we have gotten several calls complaining that the video starts and stop in weird places.Tough. We’re not going to do it over. We are sick of it now. Besides, this all will be discussed again adnauseaum.)
Former selectman Karen Quigley presented her citizens’ petition to advisors April 12. The petition calls for town meeting to vote to create a five-member appointed advisory committee to oversee the water/sewer enterprise and to create the position of town engineer. Ms. Quigley pointed out that the citizens’ petition came directly out of the Melanson and Heath (M&H) audit that advised the town to re-think management. The M&H audit was triggered by the crisis in the water, sewer and town finance departments.
Quigley told advisors that sewer (and water) commissioners, by necessity, rely heavily on contract engineers.
Peter Pescatore, Advisory chair said “You mentioned crisis situation twice. I’m not feeling that either of those operations (water and sewer) are in crisis. There is significant need to financially record transactions. But as far as I know, water and sewer are well managed.”
Quigley said she was referring to the 2009-2010 crisis.
Pescatore said that crisis was “behind us. “
“Not necessarily,” Quigley said. “It happened because of management decisions made on the board. To continue to rely on volunteer individuals who are hard-working, part time (town officials) who don’t have the level of expertise rely on consulting engineers who make decisions that effect taxpayers and ratepayers…it is not his (the consultant) job to make the best decisions for the Town of Cohasset. It’s his job to make as much money he can for his firm.
Quigley said as for instance: the water commission was told it had to build a 5-6 million dollar water processing plant. “I called DEP – we got to talking about it. I said we have financial crunches, we don’t have a lot of spare money, do we have to do this? (DEP) said ‘No. You have to do something.’ He recommended that we use the same process used in Scituate – because it gets best results in district. I brought that to water planning group; at a subsequent meeting Mr. DeCaprio (chairman of the water commission) also brought that forward. Engineers would have made money on first, plan, not the second plan.”
Advisors asked what the town engineer’s role would be if there were to be a concession contract.
Quigley said the supervisor would act as the town’s agent, serving the town’s interest, working with the water and sewer advisory committee. The (supervising engineer) would have the education and experience to understand what the concessionaire is doing. I understand the concessionaire will come forward with plans for improvement; this individual would understand if that were good for the town.
Pescatore – “I understand water and sewer is pretty routine business.” Pescatore said he thought the engineer might be “high ticket expertise.”
Quigley – “I see that person as being involved in a daily basis in water and sewer departments.”
Pescatore – “That’s the job of the town manager. Unless a project is going on – it’s pretty routine.”
Quigley – “The other benefit to the town is that as we all know how very difficult it is to get people to come forward and run for elections. I know I’ve twisted a few arms.”
Pescatore – “I have no problem with appointing people with experience. But you’re saying they would just have an advisory role. They wouldn’t even be responsible for (setting) the rates. You’re putting finances back on town’s finance role. It wouldn’t work in this environment.”
Quigley. “It’s been proposed that we have a professional rate study. It would be of great benefit to us to have a qualified individual.”
Quigley said this same water/sewer advisory board concept was recommended to the town in 2004 as being a more efficient way to operate. “The exact same recommendation being made by one of the most respected financial people in the commonwealth – Mr. John Sullivan. Do I think an individual of that stature has a valid and solid recommendation to make that this town should consider? Yes I do. It’s foolish to think we can sustain town government on a volunteer basis.”
Pescatore – The crux of it is to put the two functions together under common management. Change role from actively managing resource to advisory.
Advisor Nan Roth – “I understand your concept. Where does the funding for position come from?”
Quigley: “There is currently money in budget for two part time engineers. Or there was. The administrative positions already exist…. two other admin positions are in the water contract.
John Beck, chairman of the sewer commission, said the sewer department had $50,000 in the sewer budget for a consulting engineer.
Quigley said there were already several clerical positions in place. She added that Representative Garrett Bradley had already had the House pass an informal review of the petition.
Roth asked Quigley if the water and sewer commissioners were approaching her article with an open mind.
Quigley said she guessed that the commissioners were probably not in favor.
Advisory Bob Benson said “Why not fund positions from enterprise fund? – Should be funded by ratepayers not taxpayers.”
Selectman Lee Jenkins – “I support a program similar to this – I think there needs to be some additional work done. (This article) should cover water, sewer, DPW and buildings…fully utilizing the (engineer’s) time.
Quigley – “My preference is that it would cover DPW and buildings management. If others would like to bring that forward….then funding could come from other sources.”
DeCaprio asked advisors for more time for discussion on this issue. “There are many, many aspects of presentation that we’re challenging. “
On Monday, April 23rd advisors will meet to further discussion the ramifications of the citizens’ petition with water and sewer and Quigley. At the conclusion of the discussion advisors plan to vote on the matter.
Quigley told advisors that 90% of towns in Massachusetts have some kind of public works supervisor. Ninety-six of the 351 towns have water/sewer or just sewer. “That’s 27% but you have to take into account the number of towns that don’t have water or sewer. If you were able to deduct those the 27% would probably be higher. It’s not new, not unique. It works in others towns. We need to look past power the power bases in restructuring.”
Quigley has been invited to make her presentation to selectmen Tuesday, April 17th.