Water Bills Discussed at Select Board
Following up on “Westonwatergate”, the Select Board discussed the issues that the most recent water bills caused in town (past Owl on this topic). If you’ve been living under a rock, the Owl will summarize this as some residents were surprised to get bills way over “normal” consumption and costs.
Before discussing the current issues, the Select Board got an update from Tom Cullen, DPW Director, on the future of water meter reading: wireless meters. This has been in progress for a long time [okay, I have no idea how long–the research intern was recently fired]. Here’s the Owl’s summary of the technical stuff–transponders on individual meters send information to transponders and from there miraculously show up in a database. This covers all the Owl knows about technology. Also, it sounds cool because reading is “real-time” and residents can theoretically check if everything is “hunky-dory” on a continuous basis, therefore evading surprises, hopefully. Tom Cullen stated that it will be challenging to fully ‘turn on’ wireless reading in late December. The vendor has changed the management team several times through the contract, causing delays.
A resident comment from Holly Tolley, president of the Friends of the Council on Aging, was that older residents would not necessarily be able to handle checking their usage online. These long-period statements have caused issues because some have not seen that they have a leak, and thousands of dollars are literally down the drain. In general, she would prefer at least quarterly statements so leaks could be caught faster. Another resident asked for monthly billing like Eversource and National Grid do.
Out of 3,600 bills sent out, there are 225 active complaints so far. In a normal billing period, there are usually several dozen questions about utilization and rates but there is more than double that now. Leon Gaumond said that consumption seems to be accurate in all of the cases so far–more people home during the pandemic has had an effect on the consumption. There could be erroneous bills however so people are encouraged to call if they have questions. Once in a while, there is a bad reading but those are very small numbers. There can be transposing errors and Tom Cullen said he would issue abatements for that.
Harvey Boshart mentioned that he had done some analysis of the MWRA numbers and noted that there was a 21% increase in Weston’s water usage year over year (June-November). There was also a 10% rate increase.
Weston did have delays in having all of the meters read so a number of people moved into 7, 8 months or more of billing. Because of that, people got bumped into a different tier such as being bumped up to Tier 3 from Tier 2. Susan Kelley, Finance Director/Town Accountant, is going through the data for the almost 400 people who have been identified as being in this position. These folks may be prorated in their billing but the decision on this will be taken at the next Select Board meeting. Note that residents do not need to call if they are in this longer-than-6-months category–that has already been identified and now checking is being done to see if that caused the push into a different Tier.
Zoe Pierce, Treasurer for Weston, has fielded hundreds of calls from residents concerned about their bills. She says all conversations have ended well (yay, Weston residents and kudos to Zoe). She clarified that all bills, both the semi-annual and the supplemental bills) will not be assessed interest if they are paid by June 15. She also mentioned that the town accepts partial payments (check only; the online system cannot accept partials) so if people want to pay only part of their bill while disputing the other part, they can do so.
Laurie Bent, Select Board Chair, also acknowledged that this was a “shocking event” to many residents, especially at the end of a very challenging time. The town realizes it’s important to communicate the plans and issues as soon and as well as possible. Leon Gaumond confirmed that a full communication about billing will be coming out [Ed. Note: please take the town’s official communication over the Owl’s word on how this will all be resolved].
Bottom line: Water bills are not due until June 15. The Select Board will re-convene about the issue on June 8 and decide the exact plan for possible abatements or interest relief, etc. If you want to pay part of your bill while waiting for a resolution, you may do so.
Note: there were other issues discussed at the May 27 Select Board meeting so please watch the Weston Media Center recording when available. The Owl had to flap off.