Potential $110 Million Water System Acquisition

February 12, 2019 by Carol Britton Meyer
With nine weeks remaining before the April 22 Town Meeting, both proponents and opponents of the proposal for Hingham to purchase the portion of the Aquarion Water Company system serving Hingham, Hull, and North Cohasset following several years of research, discussion, and debate will make themselves heard.
Town Meeting voters -- and that includes you -- will make the final decision. A two-thirds vote is needed to pass the article because borrowing (about $110 million) is involved. Hull and Cohasset don't have a vote since the Town of Hingham would make the purchase, if approved.
In the meantime, Harvest Lane resident Judy Kelley and others are collecting signatures on a petition regarding the placement of the related articles on the Town Meeting warrant.
"The borrowing required to accomplish this purchase is the biggest financial obligation ever in the history of Hingham, would affect all town residents, and deserves the attention of the greatest number of voters," Kelley said in a written statement accompanying a copy of the petition.
It requests that the Selectmen place all related articles after Article 6, the main budget article -- or within the first 12 items on the 2019 warrant -- to ensure that voters with early-morning obligations -- such as parents, nurses, teachers, and senior citizens  who may normally retire early in the evening -- to be able to vote at an earlier hour.
Kelley emphasized that those signing the petition "are not expressing an opinion for or against the article, only requesting that all town residents be given optimum opportunity to exercise their legal right to vote on ths important article."
As background, at the recommendation of the Water Company Acquisition Study Committee, the Hingham Selectmen recently voted unanimously to place four related articles on the Town Meeting warrant related to:
* the potential  purchase;
* appointing the Selectmen as water commissioners;
* establishing an enterprise fund similar to the one under which South Shore Country Club operates; and
* appropriating funds for transition costs should Town Meeting approve the purchase.
The $110 million figure doesn't include borrowing costs, capital expenditures, or maintenance -- it's the straight purchase price.
The Selectmen recently announced Saturday,  March 9, from 1 to 3 p.m. in Sanborn Auditorium at Town Hall as the date and time for an informational meeting on this issue.
"This will be the first of several public information forums now that the articles are on the warrant," Selectman Mary Power told the Hingham Anchor.
"We want to continue to effectively educate citizens on this issue, with an eye to a fully informed electorate at Town Meeting," said Selectmen Chairman Paul Healey Tuesday.
These meetings will provide an opportunity for citizens to learn more about the proposal and to ask questions, to air concerns,  or to express support, so mark your calendar!
These meetings follow several public meetings concerning the financial, governance, and engineering aspects of the proposal and of the Advisory Committee Subcommittee,  which is considering the Aquarion warrant articles.
A group called Citizens for Hingham Water aims to inform residents of all the reasons why buying the system makes sense, in their opinion -- including the expected savings and the benefits of local control as well as the concensus among study committee members that no "showstoppers" to moving forward with the purchase were identified.
Nearly $50 million in savings is projected over the 30 years the debt would be repaid if the purchase goes through.  With completion of the payments --  in 2049 -- total savings are projected to increase to $7.4 million per year.
As with an earlier Request for Proposals, the Selectmen would ask the respondents to a new RFP that would be issued if the acquistion moves forward to retain as many current Aquarion employees as possible to run the town-owned system.
"Continuity of service is forefront in our minds and has been over the past seven years," Power said. "I understand that there is some uncertainty among [current] Aquarion employees."
In contrast, another group -- Keep Aquarion -- is explaining all the reasons they believe such a purchase would not be wise. Their concerns relate in part to the lack of an intermunicipal agreement with Hull and Cohasset, environmental issues, the purchase price and related costs, and their opinion that more time is needed to discuss the purchase proposal before putting it before Town Meeting.
Speaking of the overall process, Power said, "All who have been involved over the past several years understand that this is a significant decision that the voters of Hingham will be making -- one that will affect citizens for generations to come," Power said. "We also have felt all along that it's our responsibility to really dig in and explore this topic and consider all options. This is a decision with big consequences, and we've tried to approach it in a thougtful, diligent way."
The third-party analysis information related to the projected savings and other Water Company Acquisition Study Committee documents are posted on the Town of Hingham website, hingham-ma.gov. Replays of the meeting recordings are available on YouTube through the harbormedia.org website.

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