Hingham Anchor Opinion by Laura Burns
We Should Have Local Control Over Our Own Water Distribution System
At Town Meeting on April 22, citizens will vote on whether to buy our private water company from Aquarion/Eversource. There are many compelling reasons to do this - here are just three of them:
1) We should have local control over our own water distribution system; the vast majority of Massachusetts towns already do. Less than 2% of the state population is served by a private water company like ours, which makes decisions about how and when to repair (or not) its infrastructure, completely out of our town’s control. As their history of extensive water main breaks shows, trusting Aquarion, and now its parent company Eversource, to devote enough resources to maintenance has been a hope unfulfilled.
2) We also should have control of our water rates. For years our rates have been among the highest in the Commonwealth. This isn’t surprising, since in addition to providing water and maintaining the system, a private water company must also find money in its budget to reward its shareholders. Without the obligation to pay shareholders, and with the savings from the town’s triple-A bond rating, the town will have more resources available for maintenance than Aquarion/Eversource does. Rates will be set in open public meetings, here in our town, by elected officials who answer to us alone.
3) The town will save at least $48 million over the first thirty years of town ownership, according to the town’s independent financial advisors who reviewed the ownership model. After the purchase is paid off, savings rise to $7 million per year. These savings from avoided costs under town ownership will pay for the purchase of the company while still allowing rates to rise more slowly than under private ownership.
Here are some important concerns and questions:
1) Buying the water company will have no impact on taxes at all. The purchase can be paid for entirely out of water rates. It will not compete with other town projects for resources, because it comes with its own revenue stream, unlike a school or a fire station.
2) Worried that Hingham can’t run a utility? It helps to remember that we already do. The Hingham Municipal Light Plant, which has delivered electricity to us for over a hundred years under local governance, is a strong argument for the wisdom of municipal ownership of utilities.
3) Worried that the maintenance of the system will be costly? It will be, because Aquarion admits that the system is old and in poor repair. But the all the costs of maintenance are paid for out of water rates, no matter who owns the company. We’ll be paying for the maintenance regardless – we might as well be making the decisions too!
We have a rare opportunity next month to take control of this precious resource. Please plan to attend Town Meeting on April 22, and help chart Hingham’s water future under local control. To learn more, visit HinghamWater.com.