Last week in a front page Political Notebook, state Senator Jason Lewis was critical of Alderman-at-Large Monica Medeiros’ position on MWRA water and sewer rates. They are running against each other in the November 4 election for the Fifth Middlesex District seat in the state Senate. Here is Medeiros’ response.
As an alderman and candidate for state senator, I hear from many residents struggling to pay ever-increasing water and sewer bills. I have fought hard as an alderman to keep these increases to a minimum and ensure the billing structure is as fair and equitable as possible but to make any real dent in these bills, we need help at the state level. I am the only candidate with a plan to help reform the MWRA and provide rate relief to our residents.
As a Melrose alderman for the past seven years, I have been a strong advocate for Melrose ratepayers. I have supported reforms to our billing structure, reforms to make our budget more transparent and have supported repairs to stop costly leaks in our system. I have even voted to return funds which were over-collected back to our ratepayers.
I have been the sole vote in opposition to the implementation of the new, tiered-rate system, which returns to the practice of retroactively billing our ratepayers for water used in the prior fiscal year at the new year’s higher rates. It unfairly burdens large families, condominium owners and anyone with a shared meter. It also includes a new “base” charge — a new fee for simply having the meter.
We have had many contentious Board of Aldermen meetings largely because, regardless of the reforms we make on a local level, we are still forced to pay the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) an assessment which increases year after year.
In Melrose, the MWRA assessment accounts for 45 percent of our water budget and 74 percent of our sewer budget. With so much of our water and sewer fund budgets hinging upon what we must pay to the MWRA, the real change needs to occur at the state level.
My opponent shows his complete lack of understanding of the issue, alleging that a motion made during the City of Melrose Board of Aldermen meeting about our billing structure has anything to do with the MWRA rates. He should know better.
The truth is, as a state legislator, he has been in the position to help the residents of Melrose and every one of our six communities in the Fifth Middlesex District who are dependent on the MWRA in at least some way but he has failed to assist us.
I am the only candidate with a plan to provide rate relief to families and seniors who have been hammered by rate increases driven by the MWRA.
My plan is threefold:
• Cap MWRA budget increases at 2 1/2 percent.
• Advocate for state assistance of MWRA debt.
• File legislation to allow residents to deduct water and sewer fees paid from state income taxes.
The MWRA is an independent authority which otherwise has no spending cap. A cap of 2 1/2 percent is identical to the cap on budget increases that our cities and towns are limited to via Proposition 2 1/2. Adding legislation to apply this cap would encourage the agency to eliminate waste and find cost savings to operate within the cap.
Sixty cents of every dollar we give the MWRA goes to pay long term debt. Much of this debt is attributable to the Boston Harbor clean-up project. This project has benefited the entire state, not just the 61 communities in the MWRA district. We should not be the only ones paying for this. The state previously did provide annual rate relief but this practice stopped as we entered the recession. With state revenues now increasing over benchmark quarter after quarter, we have the funds to make this a reality.
Allowing residents to deduct what they pay for water and sewer charges from their state income tax returns would provide at least some relief for our residents.
Providing rate relief to our residents is something I have fought long and hard for and, if elected to the state senate, I will continue to advocate for Melrose and all of our communities on this issue.
I encourage you to visit my website at www.VoteMonica.com and join me.