Published in the July 2, 2015 edition
By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING – Two years of intense negotiations over continuing water sales between Andover and North Reading led to a successful conclusion, handshakes and a group photo of both towns’ boards of Selectmen at the town line on Friday morning.
The Selectmen from each town literally met in the middle – at the Andover – North Reading line on Central Street to exchange signed copies of the agreement, a five year contract hammered out in lengthy bargaining, that will allow North Reading to continue to purchase water from Andover into 2019, by which time the town hopes to have joined the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority for future water supply.
Both boards met in their respective town halls at 7:30 a.m. Friday to sign the final draft of the agreement and then rendezvoused at the town line, just past North Reading’s Little League Field, to exchange copies.
The five year agreement runs from July 1, 2014 (when the previous contract expired) to June 30, 2019, by which time North Reading hopes to have connected to the MWRA system for future, permanent water supply.
Much of the negotiation between the two towns centered over the rate North Reading would pay Andover for the water North Reading purchases. Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto recently said North Reading’s purchases average nearly one million gallons a day from Andover, two-thirds of the town’s of the town’s supply.
As Gilleberto explained, Andover currently has one single water rate for everyone in their town – $3.10 per hundred cubic feet, (HCF). North Reading will continue to pay this rate at the beginning of the agreement.
Andover is considering whether to adopt a tiered water rate system similar to North Reading’s which is intended to encourage conservation. The issue of how much North Reading will pay if Andover adopts a tiered rate structure was one of the major bones of contention in hammering out this deal.
Under the terms of the new contract, if and when Andover adopts a tiered rate structure, North Reading will pay the previous rate plus 5 percent. But if Andover stays with a one rate system for all and decides to raise the rates for all their homeowners by 8 percent, (hypothetically speaking), North Reading will pay the same for water as every homeowner in Andover.
“We’re going to be treated just like everyone else unless they go to a tiered system,” said Selectman Stephen O’Leary. And then North Reading’s increase would be a fixed amount, 5 percent. “The 5 percent is definitive only if they go to a tiered system.”
“Whatever the flat rate is, everybody pays the same. The only time it changes for us is if it goes to a tiered rate system. Regardless of what they do to their tiered rate system, it doesn’t matter to us because we’re going to pay 5 percent over the previous year’s rate,” O’Leary said.
Selectman Kathryn Manupelli questioned a provision in the agreement that requires North Reading to purchase at least 300 million gallons of water a year from Andover, which Chairman Robert Mauceri did not consider a problem for North Reading.
“We’ve been at this for 2 ½ years, this is the best agreement we’ve had on the table,” he said. O’Leary and Michael Prisco agreed.
The 300 million gallons provides Andover with revenue certainty for their water department going forward and provides North Reading with a minimum amount of gallons from Andover, said O’Leary.
Prisco said the 300 million gallons a day is “very low risk” for North Reading and the entire agreement is a “means to an end” to bring North Reading through to an agreement with the MWRA.
North Reading Selectmen voted 5-0 to sign the agreement with a minor modification suggested by Manupelli regarding the process for disputing bills for water charges, if that ever becomes an issue.
T.A. Gilleberto said the agreement reflects business terms that will work meet the needs of both communities, given their different situations. North Reading is looking seriously at the MWRA as a water supply option in the future and Andover is a community looking to alter its water rate structure in the future.
The T.A. gave credit to the subcommittee made up of members from each town’s board for hammering out the details over the course of half a dozen negotiating sessions. “The agreement is a reflection of a dedicated effort by Selectmen members from each community.”