Hopkinton, MA
Hopkinton, US
11:28 am, Wednesday, September 27, 2023


Select Board roundup: Water rates to rise 17.5% while sewer rates will fall by 5%

by | Jun 21, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The Select Board during its nearly four-hour hybrid meeting Tuesday night approved a 17.5% water rate increase, which will be somewhat offset by a 5% sewer rate decrease, by a 4-0 vote.

Town Manager Norman Khumalo explained that adjusting the water and sewer rates is performed on an annual basis for the upcoming fiscal year that begins on July 1. The town engaged a consultant to analyze all of the variables in the cost of providing these services to residents. The need for a water rate increase was discussed at the previous meeting on June 6.

Khumalo noted that many of the calculations are determined by how much money was approved for the budget at May’s Annual Town Meeting to ensure that the town can sufficiently fund it.

Factors that go into determining the rates include personnel costs, the annual enterprise operating budgets, operating expenses and capital project costs, explained Elizabeth Rourke, the town’s senior accounting manager.

The only department purchase that was approved at Town Meeting was for a dump truck at a cost of $285,000, which was funded by water retained earnings from a balance of $590,000. Sewer retained earnings currently total approximately $1.66 million.

Hopkinton’s planned connection to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority plays a part in the five-year budget forecast, Rourke noted.

Said Rourke: “That is one of the major cost drivers in the water rate — there’s no avoiding that.”

There are “a lot of unknowns” about possible state funding that could come to the town, which comes after a project starts. The town is planning on using $4 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding toward the MWRA project.

For the following two years, water rates are projected to rise by 30%.

“As you know, our community has grown rapidly,” said Water and Sewer manager Eric Carty. “We’re really struggling to keep up with demands.”

In addition, the costs to treat PFAS and manganese in the water “are also astronomical,” Carty said. The town is trying to provide more water that is cleaner.

Police chief requests approval for interim deputy chief

Police Chief Joseph Bennett appeared before the board to provide an update on the department’s projects and request that the town approve an interim deputy chief. No vote was taken at this meeting.

“It’s no secret that right now I don’t have anybody over the rank of sergeant,” Bennett said. “With all this going on, I can carry a lot. But it’s a lot to carry. My sergeants and staff are stretched as far as they can.”

He requested “a force multiplier” in an interim deputy chief so that he can work on officer promotion and recruitment while tackling major projects.

There has been no active deputy chief since John Porter was placed on administrative leave and eventually charged with child rape. He resigned in May and pleaded not guilty to those charges the following week. He is scheduled to appear in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn on Aug. 2.

Later in May, Sgt. Tim Brennan was placed on paid administrative leave. No further details were released.

“We have immediate and pressing needs to move forward with some key projects for the department,” Khumalo added. Recent interim positions were filled in the Parks & Recreation and Department of Public Works.

Select Board chair Muriel Kramer asked what the process would be for filling that position. Khumalo said he hoped to find an experienced leader who could hit the ground running.

Bennett said alternate titles could be executive officer or special project manager. He raised the concern that someone designated as an interim deputy chief could have “a chilling effect” on the department.

There is also a “paradigm shift” within the department, Bennett said. Officers are working in teams so that skill sets can be developed.

Said Bennett: “You will start seeing natural leaders emerge from these teams.”

Bennett also explained that the police station itself took “a big hit” when two pipes broke, which closed several second-floor offices. The common space, squad room and kitchen need to be rebuilt.

Despite staffing and space challenges, Bennett said the department has pressed forward with several key initiatives. A major undertaking is preparing for the state accreditation process next year, which he described as “daunting.” To help complete this task, he hired an outside contractor. Three sergeants also have been contributing to the process.

The accreditation standards changed when the state created the Police Officers Standards and Training Commission. More than 400 policies need to be reviewed. Standards and proof of compliance have to be shown for accreditation to be granted.

Also in the works is the procurement of body cameras for officers. This will vastly increase the volume of records that will need to be redacted and recorded, Bennett said. Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch asked if software was available that could redact videotape because it does exist for written documents. Bennett said he doesn’t have that capability.

Bennett stressed that recruitment of officers is ongoing, and that there are five prospective officers “in the queue.”

Interim Fire Chief Daugherty provides update

Interim Fire Chief Gary Daugherty updated the board on the department’s work. He explained that 61% of calls the department received during the past year are for medical responses. The busiest time of the day tends to from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with Friday being the busiest day.

Community risk reduction has been a department priority. Daugherty explained that firefighters have held community classes on CPR and how to stop bleeding. Joint initiatives with the Health Department include fall prevention, mental health and nutrition. As of June 13, CPR training now includes instruction on how to administer Narcan during opioid overdoses.

Said Daugherty: “The Board of Health did a lot of good work.”

Daugherty also intends to roll out a fire scene decontamination program. He noted that firefighters are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals. Kits can reduce contaminants by up to 85%, he said.

He said no contractors bid on the Station 2 construction project, adding that it may be too large of a project for a small local company to take on, but too small for a large contractor.

A retired firefighter from Washington, D.C., will be joining Daugherty shortly to begin reviewing LNG response plans. That position will be funded through the department budget. This has been a concern raised by Legacy Farms residents.

New Parks & Rec commissioner named

The Select Board met jointly with the Parks & Recreation Commission to appoint a new commissioner. After reviewing three candidates, the board voted for Seth Kenney to fill the vacancy that was created when Cynthia Esthimer moved out of state before her term was to expire in 2025. He lives on Lake Maspenock and has two children who utilize Parks & Rec programming.

“I’d like to be able to give back to the town as someone who uses [Lake Maspenock] every single day,” said Kenney.

Also considered were Liisa Jackson, who previously served on Parks & Rec for three years, and Vikasith Pratty, who spoke about increasing activities. The seat will be up for election next spring.

Select Board member Shahidul Mannan noted that the decision was tough. He encouraged all candidates to run in the future to “continue your passion.”

“I appreciate everyone applying and being involved and wanting to make a difference,” added Parks & Rec chair Dan Terry. He added that the voting process is difficult because people have to vote for one candidate in front of the others. This, he said, may discourage others from applying for positions.