By Carol Britton Meyer, March 3rd, 2019
Two meetings related to the potential purchase -- which the Selectmen unanimously support -- are scheduled for the week of March 3. This is your opportunity to become an informed, or even more-informed, citizen looking toward the April 22 Town Meeting.The Advisory Committee Water Company Sub-Committee will discuss the four Town Meeting warrant articles 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.
(Please note: this meeting was scheduled for Monday, March 4 but has been cancelled due to snow. We will update when the new meeting time is scheduled)
The Selectmen will host an informational meeting -- the first of several leading up to Town Meeting -- Saturday, March 9, from 1 to 3 p.m. in Sanborn Auditorium at Town Hall. "We want to continue to effectively educate citizens on this issue, with an eye to a fully informed electorate at Town Meeting," Selectmen Chairman Paul Healey said earlier.
Citizens for Hingham Water (HinghamWater.com), a group that supports the acquisition, is informing voters of why they support the acquisition -- including the expected approximately $50 million savings over 30 years and the benefits of local control. With completion of the payments -- in 2049 -- total savings are projected to increase to $7.4 million per year.
Laura Burns, chair of Citizens for Hingham Water explained their reasons for supporting the proposed acquisition:
“There are two really important things to know:
1) This purchase would have no effect at all on taxes. The system generates revenue which, because of avoided costs under town ownership, can both pay for the purchase of the system and be used to increase maintenance, which has been woefully neglected by Aquarion/Eversource. There is no need to use taxes for the purchase, and it will have no impact on any other projects the town is considering
2) Only two percent of Massachusetts residents are served by a private water company. The vast majority of water systems are publicly owned, and of the 41 municipalities of our size, we are the only one with a private water company.
There are three big reasons to buy the company:
1) We would have local control over this precious resource and make our own decisions about our water future, just as other towns in our state already do. We would be able to serve the ratepayers instead of generating profit for investors.
2) The town's independent financial reviewers confirmed that ratepayers will save at least $48 million over the next 31 years under town ownership because of avoided costs. After 31 years, the purchase will be paid off, and ratepayers will save $7 million every year.
3) With those savings, the town can choose to increase the investment in infrastructure. The system is in bad condition, according to Aquarion/Eversource's own statements. They have invested far less in maintenance than is recommended in the studies they commissioned themselves. We should be investing in our water future, not paying profits to shareholders.”
Members of Keep Aquarion (keepaquarion.com), a group that opposes such an acquisition, is also making itself heard. Their concerns relate in part to the lack of an intermunicipal agreement with Hull and Cohasset, environmental issues, and the purchase price and related costs.
At the same time, Aquarion has been and continues to host public forums to explain why they believe such a purchase would not be a wise move. Aquarion Vice President of Operations John Walsh wrote a nine-page letter to the Advisory Committee -- which includes members of its Water Company Sub-Committee, to which the letter was also addressed -- outlining what the water company considers to be key issues regarding the proposed acquisition.
Walsh was present at the sub-committee's Feb. 27 meeting to talk about some of those concerns. The letter contained information related to a number of issues, including the projected cost to customers under both Aquarion and town ownership; what Walsh called "the unprecedented nature of Hingham officials' governance plan; "a disconnect between the cost of Hingham officials' infrastructure replacement plans and the funding for infrastructure that they have included in their financial plan"; and "the facts about Aquarion's rates."
The final decision rests with voters at the April 22 Town Meeting. A two-thirds vote is needed to pass the article because borrowing ( $110 million, which is the estimated straight purchase price) is involved. Hull and Cohasset don't have a vote since the Town of Hingham would make the purchase if approved.
Speaking of the overall process, Selectman Mary Power said earlier about the March 9 and future Selectmen informational meetings, "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. 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 thoughtful, diligent way," she said.
Check the town website for upcoming meeting dates and times. The third-party analysis information related to the projected savings and other Water Company Acquisition Study Committee documents are also posted at hingham-ma.gov.
Replays of the meeting recordings are available on YouTube through the harbormedia.org website.