Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

June 13, 2013

Dismayed by approach to rate hikes

The Andover Townsman

---- — Editor, Townsman:

Andover’s Board of Selectmen approved a hike in the water and sewer rates last week that they opposed just the week before? Is this some kind of joke?

There are advantages to attending every night of Town Meeting and one of them is that you get to hear from town residents. On the first night of Town Meeting, May 6, one very astute resident was concerned about the potential for an increase in the water rates and asked the following question of our elected officials: “What’s on the horizon for the increase in water rates? .... What’s on the books?” (This exchange begins at the 72:45 minute mark of the video recording posted on AndoverTV’s website).

The town manager gave a very vague, rambling response suggesting that he was going to be “recommending” an increase at an upcoming Board of Selectman’s meeting on May 20. He failed to mention that the 8 percent sewer rate increase and 2.5 percent water rate increase were already in the budget that was about to be voted upon. When the same Andover resident pressed the issue and said he did not like what he was hearing regarding the potential for a water rate increase, he was cut off and admonished by the town moderator who said, “We don’t have a water rate increase before us right now”. Well Madame Moderator, that is exactly what we had before us and you inappropriately cut off a town resident who was seeking a straightforward answer to a clearly relevant question that apparently our Board of Selectmen did not know.

Do any of our elected officials actually read this material before recommending approval and putting it up for a vote? The water and sewer rate hikes were in Article 4 — the FY14 Budget (see pages 39 and 40 of the Finance Committee Report) that the Board of Selectman and Finance Committee recommended for approval and that town residents approved at Town Meeting. Water and sewer revenue accounts for almost 10 percent of all town revenue. How does a such a large budgeted increase in rates get overlooked? Did the town manager withhold important details from the Board of Selectmen? Did the selectmen fail to ask the right questions prior to Town Meeting? Or was it both? What about the Finance Committee, which supposedly is here to “advise” Town Meeting. How can they do anything beyond a rubber stamp of the warrant articles if they don’t look behind the numbers they are presented?

Look at some other recent examples ... the Board of Selectmen didn’t know until recently that the town’s health insurance, 10 percent of the budget, had not been put out to bid for five years. Also, not one member of the Board of Selectmen took the time to personally inspect an existing fire rescue ambulance before seeking (and receiving) a quarter million dollars to replace it (Article 25).

It makes you wonder what else did town residents approve at Town Meeting that the officials missed. Don’t we deserve better than this from our elected and appointed officials?

Bob Landry, Greg Rigby