Council Supports Water Relief For Residents

Jennifer Smith is tired of rationing water for showers, especially when her parents visit. “They call me the ‘Water Nazi,'” the Longwood Avenue resident told the Town Council and Budget Committee.

The Londonderry Town Council will attempt to right a longstanding wrong by throwing its support behind a warrant article to extend town water to a handful of homes. In its Jan. 16 budget hearing, the Council heard again from residents of Hillcrest Lane and Longwood Avenue.

At issue is the water quality and quantity for the residents, who live in the vicinity of a Brownfields site on Auburn Road. While other homes in the neighborhood had town water extended to them as part of a mitigation attempt in the 1990s, these lots were overlooked. Resident Amy Cocci is representing her neighbors, who signed a petition for a warrant article to raise $230,000 to connect to town water.

Shady Lane was connected to the town water in 2004, by petition, but once again their homes were overlooked, residents told the Council in its Jan. 9 meeting.

The petitioned warrant article was #20 on the working warrant presented in the Jan. 16 meeting.

In the public hearing on the articles, resident Dan Bouchard, who does not live in that area, said the issue “bothered him. The town dropped the ball, and didn’t get water to those people.” Bouchard added he didn’t want to see the town in a lawsuit.

“It should not be a citizens’ petition,” Bouchard said. “The Council should address it and fix it.”

Bouchard, a longtime resident, reminded the Council that $1 million was received from the EPA in a settlement on the original Brownfields issue, and it was put in the UFB and returned to taxpayers.

Town Manager Kevin Smith said he and the town attorneys had researched the issue, including looking at the original 1986 “record of decision” or ROD. “It never stated,” he said, “that all homes within a one-mile radius be connected. The EPA did not recommend it.”

What might have happened, Smith said, is that Cocci’s neighborhood was submitted to the EPA as part of a request to identify all wells in the area and see if they were contaminated.

“I drove those roads this week,” Council Chair John Farrell said. “I have empathy for your situation.”

While Farrell said, “It appears the EPA followed the rules,” he added that it should not affect the neighbors’ petition.

Vice-Chair Tom Freda said, “One million went into the UFB. It was earmarked for these neighbors. I want to know what came out of the UFB.” To use the money to reduce taxes when these residents have water issues is, he said, “Not appropriate.”

Administrative Support Coordinator Steve Cotton said the $230,000 would allow the line to be run down these streets, but that it was still the residents’ responsibility — and expense — to connect.

The extension requested is 1,200 feet.

“We’re on the map and it should have been done,” Amy Cocci told the board. “The road was being ripped up. It could have been done at that time.”

Matt Smith, a resident of Longwood, said he has spent $13,000 to $14,000 to improve his water. “This is incredibly important to us,” he said.

Smith’s wife Jennifer said, “I know this will be hard to pass.” She told the television audience, “I am a wife, a mother. My husband is a coach and teacher. We are your neighbors.”

“It seems like a wrong has been done,” Councilor Joe Green said. He asked if the Council could vote not to recommend this article, and instead instruct Kevin Smith to have the DPW do the work with money from fund balance.

Farrell reminded the board, “We are already taking $2 million from the fund balance.”

But Green argued that the UFB made sense as a funding mechanism, because it wouldn’t affect taxes. “The taxpayer already paid for it,” he said.

“This is a public safety issue,” Councilor Jim Butler said. “It is not a want, it is a need. I recommend that we vote to support this article, and if the voters reject it, we go back and find a way to fix this.”

Farrell referenced the number of items already on the warrant, and the effect if they all pass. “It will be $266 on a $300,000 home,” he said, and with the School Board warrant articles, it will be closer to $500.

But the Council agreed that it should have been done, and it needs to be done.

The question was, “how.”

The Council discussed adding a 24th warrant article and asking voters to raise and appropriate $230,000 from the UFB for the water extension. “At deliberative, we could zero out the original article,” Farrell suggested.

Town Attorney Michael Ramsdell warned that that could be confusing to voters, and they could end up voting for the “zero” article and rejecting the one with the real numbers.

“Legally, there’s nothing wrong with it,” Ramsdell said. “But if you set yourselves up, you might get neither.”

The Council instructed Kevin Smith to renumber the items on the ballot, with the new #20 asking voters to raise and appropriate $230,000 from the UFB to fix the problem, with zero impact to the tax rate. The

Council and Budget Committee both voted unanimously to approve the item.

They voted unanimously not to recommend the original citizens’ petition, now numbered #21.

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