Bourne Finance Committee chairwoman Mary Jane Mastrangelo has continued her fight to provide financial help to sewer ratepayers in Buzzards Bay. Ms. Mastrangelo successfully lobbied her committee to recommend to the Bourne Board of Sewer Commissioners an increase in sewer retained earnings to subsidize next year’s sewer budget.
Ms. Mastrangelo made her argument during the finance committee’s remote meeting on Monday, March 29. The committee reviewed the articles that will appear on the warrant for the May 3 Special/Annual Town Meeting. Among them was Article 3, which calls for approval of the new sewer budget at $1,455,538.
The proposed budget includes the use of $50,000 in sewer retained earnings to offset an anticipated increase to sewer rates. Ms. Mastrangelo echoed a stance that she took during the sewer commissioners meeting on March 23 that $50,000 is not enough and recommended increasing the amount to $150,000.
During the March 23 meeting, sewer commissioners chairman James L. Potter was diametrically opposed to that suggestion. Mr. Potter said retained earnings should only be used for infrastructure repairs, not subsidizing the budget to reduce user fees. He added that he did not like the idea of using even $50,000 to subsidize the budget.
On Monday night Ms. Mastrangelo again voiced her opinion that the retained earnings amount proposed for next year’s budget is not enough. She acknowledged that resorting to the use of retained earnings to subsidize user rates “is a tough situation.” However, contrary to Mr. Potter’s perspective, the use of retained earnings to subsidize a budget is a normal practice, she said.
Ms. Mastrangelo noted that, with the proposed $50,000 from retained earnings, the expected increase in sewer rates will be $275. However, the expense increase for the coming year is only $148, she said. She again recommended increasing the amount of retained earnings in the budget to $150,000.
“I think that they [sewer commissioners] could think about using $135,000 or $150,000 without straining the retained earnings and help the ratepayers,” she said.
Ms. Mastrangelo added that dipping deeper into retained earnings would still leave the account with a healthy balance of at least a half-million dollars. She noted there is also money in the sewer reserve fund that will be transferred to the retained earnings account at the end of the current fiscal year.
Also, Bourne is on target to receive funding from the Cape and Islands Water Protection Fund because of the new wastewater treatment facility, she said. She admitted it is unknown how much money will come from the protection fund.
“We qualified for about $5 million of SRF [State Revolving Fund], so if they fund 10 percent to all the projects, we’d get $500,000,” she said.
She added the percentage could go as high as 25 percent. Whatever the percentage, she said, that money will go into the town’s sewer enterprise fund.
Concerns have been raised about the cost to operate and maintain the new wastewater treatment facility under construction in Buzzards Bay. Nightmare scenarios have been raised of an increase to the sewer rate as high as $500 to fund the plant. Ms. Mastrangelo said such projections are premature and helping the sewer users should be a first priority.
“We’re in a time when we can, as a town, decide that we’re going to work to proactively help the ratepayers so that they’re not overly influenced by the rates that are increasing,” she said.
Committee member Renee A. Gratis reminded her colleagues that the issue of increasing the retained earnings amount had already been raised with the sewer commissioners and the board summarily rejected the idea.
Kathleen M. LeGacy said there did not seem to be any plan in place to mitigate unforeseen future sewer expenses. Ms. Mastrangelo reiterated that money is expected to come from the Cape and Islands Water Protection Fund. There is also unused money from the sewer reserve fund and set aside for equipment repairs, as well as development fees, that will go into the retained earnings account, she said.
Ms. Mastrangelo addressed the five-year plan for sewer projects in Bourne, which includes spending money on a sewer study and on new pumps and panels. She said there are long-term sewer projects involving infrastructure improvements that will be expensive. Those costs, she said, should not fall solely on the sewer users.
“It will require funding from the town, similar to the rest of the comprehensive plan,” she said, adding that the cost of the wastewater plant should be shared by all Bourne residents.
A motion was made and seconded to recommend increasing the amount taken from sewer retained earnings in the Fiscal Year 2022 sewer budget to $150,000. The motion was approved by a vote of five in favor, Ms. Gratis and Ms. LeGacy voting in opposition, and member Amanda Bongiovanni abstaining.