The ongoing tussle between the Buzzards Bay Water District and Massachusetts Maritime Academy over tax revenue took center stage at the meeting of the district’s board of commissioners on Tuesday, February 11.
Mass Maritime, unlike other property owners in the district, does not pay property taxes to the water district.
“The burden of supporting the water district has fallen on the 2,400 taxpayers and the district,” commission chairwoman Wendy J. Chapman said.
Ms. Chapman made her comments to the MMA’s new vice president of operations, Captain Allen G. Metcalfe Jr.
The commission has been critical of the academy’s continuing acquisition of property in Buzzards Bay. Once a piece of property is owned by MMA it is taken off the town’s tax rolls, which means a corresponding loss of revenue to the district.
Town records show that Mass Maritime currently owns 42.73 acres of property in Buzzards Bay. Town assessor Bruce Cabral said that includes a parcel adjacent to the new Hampton Inn that MMA plans to make into a parking lot. Mr. Cabral said that because the academy bought the property mid-year, it is taxable in the current fiscal year. As of July 1, however, it will become tax exempt, he said.
Ms. Chapman suggested that MMA might follow the example of Bridgewater State University, which voluntarily contributes money to offset the Town of Bridgewater police and fire department budgets. She referred to the academy’s electricity-producing wind turbine and said it could provide a measure of compensation.
“We use $40,000 to $50,000 in electricity,” she said, “so if you had extra electricity you could donate, some kind of compensation to offset the fact of what we’re losing here.”
Capt. Metcalfe admitted that he has only been on the job a little more than a week. He took over for Paul B. O’Keefe who recently retired from the position. Capt. Metcalfe said he was still getting himself up to speed on the situation between the academy and the water district.
“I don’t have the answers for you right now,” he said. “I won’t have the answers for you next week.”
An MMA alumnus, Capt. Metcalfe graduated from the academy in 1985 with a degree in marine engineering. He served in the US Navy and most recently worked for Able Services, a building maintenance and engineering firm in Chicago.
The captain promised the commissioners that he wants to establish a working relationship and a dialogue between the two entities. Communication, he said, is key with him, and “if you don’t have that, you don’t have anything.”
“We will try to work and figure out what we can do,” Capt. Metcalfe said. “I’m sure there are rules and regulations that we’re going to find out together, and there are some things we can talk about and negotiate.”
In the past year, Ms. Chapman noted, the water district had to drill a new well that cost more than a million dollars. In addition, basic infrastructure throughout the district was in need of repair, and that included work on pipes going to Mass Maritime properties.
“The expense will fall on the district ratepayers,” she said.
Ms. Chapman conceded that, aside from the academy’s main campus, much of the property owned by MMA does not use water. The parcel adjacent to the new Hampton Inn and across Perry Avenue from Bourne Town Hall is one example. That is slated to become a parking lot.
However, she said, the lack of water usage on a parcel is not a factor in determining taxation by the water district. The owner of a vacant lot or a parking lot still pays a district tax on that property. When the MMA is the property owner, however, there is no such taxation.
Water district billing clerk Louise Warren explained that the district tax is a portion of a resident’s property tax. In addition to the district tax, customers pay a base charge of $81, then pay for the amount of water used, Ms. Warren said.
Ms. Warren explained that customers who use anywhere from 0 to 15,000 gallons are charged $3 per thousand gallons. Usage from 15,000 to 40,000 costs $5.53 per thousand gallons. Gallons exceeding 40,000 are charged at a rate of $7 per thousand gallons, she said.
MMA’s usage typically falls in the higher tier of $7 per thousand gallons and may exceed 100,000 gallons. Other “high tier” customers of the water district include Bourne Scenic Park, Keystone Place, Speedwash Laundromat on Main Street, and the Town of Bourne with the splash pad at Buzzards Bay Park.
Unlike the Town of Bourne, Ms. Chapman said, the water district does not receive “cherry sheet” money, so the district is not reimbursed by the state for any public properties within its borders.
“The district wants to work with Mass Maritime to figure out some way that we can come to some resolution,” she said.
Capt. Metcalfe reiterated that he is new to his position, but eager to work with the water district in finding common ground.
“I can’t promise that everything is going to be peaches and cream,” he said. “I don’t know what the rules are yet, or what the limitations are yet, or what’s going on. I want to have the proper facts, and that we talk about using the opportunities that we can all pursue.”