LYNN — A four percent increase in the city’s water and sewer rates was approved on Monday night, which will boost the average residential customer’s annual bill by about $28 to $32, according to Daniel O’Neill, Lynn Water & Sewer Commission executive director.
O’Neill attributed the rate increase to an impending 13-year, $200 million combined sewer outflows (CSO) project that is scheduled to start in June 2020 and the loss of Garelick Farms, which he said accounted for 7.5 percent of revenue in the Water and Sewer Commission operating budget.
The Lynn Water and Sewer Commission will increase rates from $10.58 per 100 cubic feet to $11 per 100 cubic feet, or 748 gallons, which will take effect on July 1.
There’s been a 4 percent rate increase for the past three years, but O’Neill said there had been zero increases in the previous four years.
“We had four out of the last seven years, zero rate increases, but the last three, we see there’s a tsunami on the horizon,” O’Neill said. “We’ve got a $200 million price tag so we’re starting to ramp up the rate a little bit to get there, so it’s affordable and reasonable.”
The commission also approved an $82.26 million capital improvement plan for fiscal years 2020 to 2022, which includes $54.6 million for CSO funding over that time period.
But the biggest question was whether the panel would approve the Lynn Water and Sewer Commission’s $30 million FY20 budget.
The commission was deadlocked on its first vote, 2-2. Commissioners Vincent Lozzi Jr. and Walter Proodian voted to approve the budget, while chairman William Trahant and David Ellis voted no. Richard Colucci was absent.
David Travers, head of finance for the Water and Sewer Commission, said if the panel didn’t pass an operating budget this month, it would shut business down on July 1 when the fiscal year starts. The department wouldn’t be able to pay its bills or employee payroll.
If the budget wasn’t approved on Monday, Travers said the commission would have to call a second meeting to approve 1/12th of the budget to get the department through the month of July.
To prompt a second vote, Trahant called for a motion for immediate reconsideration for the operating budget proposal. The reconsideration to allow a second vote was approved 3-1, with Ellis again voting no.
Ellis took issue with what he considers to be a lack of compliance with parts of a 2001 consent decree filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which called for cleaning up West Lynn and the downtown. The city was fined $125,000 in 2017 for not being in compliance.
Ellis, a Ward 6 councilor candidate, said the water and sewer department needs to invest more manpower, or funding, into flood control for West Lynn.
He argued that catch basins are not cleaned out in the area and there’s overpressure in the pipes from fill because there aren’t enough employees in the department.
“It affects people’s businesses and homes when we don’t do that work,” Ellis said. “It’s a public safety issue.”
But according to the department’s chief engineer, Anthony Marino, there have been more catch basins fixed and cleaned this year than at any point during his 15-year tenure.
Lozzi said the commission has already taken a huge step in terms of compliance with planning for the CSO project. Fifteen miles of new piping will be placed between West Lynn and the downtown areas, creating separate sewer and rainwater systems to prevent improper discharge into the ocean and other bodies of water.
The comments from Ellis during the budget discussion prompted a heated exchange from Proodian, who said he was “sick and tired of this.” Proodian said O’Neill was running the department, not Ellis, telling Ellis he didn’t care what he had to say and that he had said enough.
“Dan O’Neill is in charge of this place and he’s running it,” Proodian said. “He’s calling the shots. I’ve had enough and he knows what we’ve got to do here, not him (Ellis). Mr. Travers knows how much we’ve got in the budget here and what we’ve got to spend and how we spend the money. I’ve had enough of this bull.”
Ellis responded that the Lynn Water and Sewer Commission is run by its board of commissioners, who oversee operations and vote on budgets. If O’Neill has a task to spend money, Ellis said he brings it in to the board.
In a second vote, the budget was approved, 3-1, with Ellis voting no and Trahant opting to change his vote to yes.
“I’m voting (to approve) because I want to make sure they all get their paycheck,” Trahant said. “That’s a big concern of mine.”