LYNNFIELD — Admitting they violated the state’s Open Meeting Law, the embattled Lynnfield Center Water District (LCWD) commissioners reversed their controversial rate hike Monday night.
Christopher Casey, the panel’s attorney, said a review of the meeting’s minutes confirmed a vote to increase the rates was taken twice last year. But nowhere did they list the specific three-tiered rates, and without that, he said, the vote was improper.
Originally, LCWD Chairwoman Constance Leccese said Casey had reviewed the minutes of previous meetings and determined the higher rate, its one-year retroactive increase, and the tiered system with higher rates for more use, were legal.
“The opinion is what we did was perfectly, perfectly legal and legitimate,” Leccese said at the time.
The rate increase took residents by surprise. Many of them attended the commission meeting last month to protest the dramatic hikes in water rates.
Ratepayer Joe Marotta asked the panel how the price of water could rise by nearly 1,900 percent. His bill went from $60 to $1,170, he said.
Through the commission’s public relations firm, Leccese apologized for the inconvenience.
“We want to ensure that the rates our customers are paying are fair and equitable,” she said in a statement.
Customers who paid bills issued with the higher rates can get a refund or credit on a future bill. New bills, based on last year’s lower rates, will be issued by Feb. 28 and are due March 31.
The vote to repeal the increase comes days after Leccese submitted her resignation effective at the end of March. Her term was scheduled to end in 2021.
In her letter to Commissioner Richard Lamusta, she said the demands placed on the commission have escalated dramatically over the past year.
“This is a complex organization,” she wrote. “I feel the district would be better served by a commissioner with more time to devote to the organization’s mission.”
With former Commissioner Kenneth Burnham’s retirement this month, there will soon be at least two new members on the three-person panel and a new superintendent. Burnham had also served as water superintendent.
Lamusta’s term ends in March and it’s unclear whether he will seek reelection. Lamusta said he had not made up his mind whether to run. Commissioners are elected by ratepayers.
In an interview with the Lynnfield Weekly News, Leccese said her decision to resign was very difficult.
“This is an organization in transition, and they need a new board and a new superintendent,” she said. “My decision to resign was in the best interest of the district and I hope this will move things forward.”
Leccese’s resignation comes as the Lynnfield Center Water District’s commissioners and the Board of Selectmen are at odds. Selectmen are seeking changes in the panel’s governance through legislation on Beacon Hill.
Last summer, the LCWD faced a torrent of criticism from dozens of residents who complained about brown water. In December, the panel was denounced by ratepayers for a controversial retroactive water rate increase that took its 2,600 users by surprise.
Earlier this month, the Board of Selectmen filed a public records request seeking documents from the water commission about the rate hike. Town Administrator Robert Dolan said selectmen were concerned about whether the commissioners made formal votes to implement the new policies from the rate increase, charging for water by use, and retroactive billing.