Board of Selectmen: water fees, snubbing the public

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 23, started at 6:50 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board had invited Frederick Russell, the director of the Public Works water and sewer division, to present a proposal for revising fees. Unlike practices of years ago, the board did not announce or conduct a hearing.

Public affairs: Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, announced another agreement with a nonprofit organization for payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT). It is with Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist organization at 303 Boylston St. Mr. Cirillo noted that it is the twentieth PILOT agreement he has negotiated, starting in 2006. The board approved.

Water and sewer fees: Mr. Russell’s proposal was presented with a computer display that, as of noon the following day, had not been made available to the public on the municipal Web site. According to him, the average bill will increase 4.6 percent, starting in July–far in excess of general inflation. Compared with other eastern Massachusetts communities, Brookline’s water and sewer fees are already high.

It was obvious to many that some of Mr. Russell’s data could not stand scrutiny. Board member Nancy Daly said that a back calculation indicated an average residential bill of over $9,000. The claim for average increase in dollars, divided by the claim for average increase in percent, shown on Mr. Russell’s displays, indicated an average quarterly bill of about $2,200. Mr. Russell could not explain clearly.

A severe problem with Brookline’s water and sewer fees has long been known. It stems from failure to adjust for the number of dwelling units served by a water line and meter. Brookline has mostly multifamily housing. Fewer than 20 percent of households are found in single-family houses.

Brookline has had information about numbers of dwelling units for decades. It has been available from computer databases for over 20 years. Mr. Russell said his division’s failure to bill on a fair and equitable basis was lessened by a scheme of base rates and block rates, but data he displayed showed substantial inequity.

Members of the public led by Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, and David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, came with information showing that Brookline was practicing unfair billing. Although the Board of Selectmen often accepts comments on public affairs topics at ordinary meetings, not just hearings, Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair and a former Advisory Committee member, pointedly snubbed Mr. Lescohier and his allies. The board approved the proposed fee changes after only brief discussion.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Ray Masak, a building project administrator, asked for approval of a $2.61 million contract with Contractors Network of East Providence, RI. It will rebuild and repair large parts of the 16-year-old municipal service center at 870 Hammond St. Design errors have led to expensive corrections, rivalled only by the Pierce School disasters of the early 1970s. Most members of the board seemed oblivious to Brookline’s costly history of mistakes. They approved the contract.

Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, won approval for two major contracts that begin a project to enlarge and renovate Devotion School. HMFH Architects of Cambridge gets $8.13 million for final plans, specifications and design coordination. Shawmut Design and Construction of Boston gets $10.55 million for its services as general contractor. The entire project has been costed at about $120 million–by far the most expensive in Brookline’s history.

Mr. Guigli also won approval for two much smaller contracts to complete school repairs. GWV of East Boston gets a $0.04 million change order, most of it to replace the main sewer connection at Lawrence School. Lambrian of Westwood gets $0.02 million more to complete work at old Lincoln School. Ms. Daly asked about science room casework removed by mistake. Mr. Guigli said that the change order included an adjustment for damages.

Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, won approval of $1.22 milllion for the first year of a five-year contract with Casella Waste Systems of Peabody, to collect and process recycled materials. A five-year contract with Waste Management of Houston, TX, which began Brookline’s single-stream recycling, is ending. Casella submitted a more favorable bid. The cost is significantly higher than the current contract. Mr. Pappastergion won approval for a $0.2 million reserve fund request, to be heard by Advisory on July 7.

Casella already operates solid waste transfer from the Brookline transfer station off Newton St. It takes town refuse collections, street sweepings and catch basin cleanings to a sanitary landfill in Southbridge that recovers methane and uses it to generate electricity. The company will take recycle collections to a largely automated separation plant in Charlestown. Unlike Waste Management, Casella does not plan to incinerate any materials but will bundle and sell them for reuse.

Licenses and permits: A representative for Teleport Communications applied for a permit to install an in-street conduit on Hammond St. Traffic in the area has been disturbed recently by work on gas mains. Teleport estimated five days for its job, committed to all-hours access for residents and promised to notify residents a week before commencing work. The board approved.

Two liquor license holders were brought in for revocation hearings. Vernissage, a restaurant in Washington Square, and GPS Wines and Spirits, across Boylston St. from the Chestnut Hill Shopping Center, have closed. Both were given about five more months to reactivate businesses or transfer licenses.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 24, 2015


Devotion School Building Committee: opting for a community school, Brookline Beacon, September 26, 2014

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