Newly formed Northfield Ad Hoc Water Committee holds first meeting

  • The Grandin Reservoir, off Louisiana Road in northeastern Northfield, provides water for the East Northfield Water Co. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2019 6:10:20 PM
Modified: 11/8/2019 6:10:06 PM

NORTHFIELD — The newly formed Ad Hoc Water Committee met for the first time last week to discuss town-wide concerns regarding rising water rates for customers under the East Northfield Water Co.

The committee was formed “to discuss the scope of what Northfield can and cannot do, and the background of how we got here,” Town Coordinator Andrea Llamas said. “The goal is to get as many answers as we can and present the information to the Selectboard for options for action.”

The East Northfield Water Co. petitioned for an approximate 150 percent rate increase in May, proposed to cover the $900,000 in losses the company has incurred since rates were last set in 2012. If the rate hike is approved by the state Department of Public Utilities (DPU), customers could see a 73.6 percent increase, effective April 1, 2020; followed by a compounded 42.4 percent increase, effective April 1, 2021.

The Northfield Selectboard created the ad-hoc committee on Sept. 23 to consider possible solutions to the rising water rates. On Oct. 7, the Selectboard appointed Llamas, Board of Health member Phil Baker, Planning Board member Tony Stavely, Board of Assessors member Beth Walker and Finance Committee member Sue Kaczenski to the ad-hoc committee.

During last week’s meeting, members of the committee discussed the relationship between the East Northfield Water Co. and Northfield Mount Hermon School. While the school is the major shareholder of the water company, and the company’s offices are on school grounds, East Northfield Water Co. is legally separate and not owned by the school.

Members of the Ad Hoc Water Committee said NMH has expressed a willingness to let go of the water company, leading to a discussion of potentially merging the company with other entities such as the Northfield Sewer District and the Northfield Water District. If the East Northfield Water Co. were to merge with one of the districts, the company could be restructured from a for-profit to non-profit public entity.

“The company needs to be attractive to users who would take it on if it turned into a district,” Llamas said.

Part of the evening’s discussion included questioning whether a bank or the school holds the current debt cited by NMH and the East Northfield Water Co. According to company President John Alden, the water company holds roughly $850,000 in debt, which it owes to the major shareholder in NMH. The water company hoped to make up its debt in part through the customer rate increases.

Part of the challenge, said Alden — who met with Llamas and another ad-hoc committee member on Tuesday — is getting the finances to make any merger viable. As a private entity, the East Northfield Water Co. is not eligible for government funding. Alden said the company and the ad-hoc committee will work toward forming a new entity that would be eligible for such grants and funding. However, committee members also said that Northfield Water District officials did not seem interested in a merger.

Despite this, the hypothetical situation has been researched by resident Jeff Shander, who has 40 years of experience as a consulting engineer, including studying wastewater systems and developing underground utility designs. Shander said he spoke with members of the Northfield Water District and Northfield Sewer District about the proposed merger providing an economy of scale.

Both Shander and Llamas said that while they can try to reduce the rate increase proposed by the East Northfield Water Co., they anticipate a rate increase of some size will be unavoidable, as there hasn’t been an increase in more than six years.

The Ad Hoc Water Committee will meet again at Northfield Town Hall on Dec. 3, at 5 p.m.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.




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