MERRIMAC — Former Acting DPW Commissioner John Riordan was on the hot seat at Monday night’s selectmen’s meeting, answering angry questions about invoices once again.
“We’re not paying this,” said Chairman Earl Baumgardner, referring to a $34,476 repair bill for damages to the Wallace Way project that were apparently caused by the contractor’s high-pressure test, which buckled components of the water system.
“You guys can do what you want, but I’m not authorizing payment of another dime for this,” added Baumgardner.
Water Department head Gary Tuck, who was also on hand at the meeting, supported the selectmen’s rejection of the Tonka, Inc. invoice for repairs, saying, “The ratepayers didn’t cause any of the damage, so why should it fall on them?”
In the end, the bill was unanimously rejected, but Riordan remained in the spotlight for another discussion of his de facto conflict of interest while serving as both senior engineer on Merrimac projects being performed by his company, SGC Engineering, while also serving as the town’s acting DPW commissioner.
“Whether you were performing as acting DPW commissioner or project manager, we were getting charged at the same rate regardless,” said Baumgardner. “And I’m a little disappointed in myself for not bringing it up before now.”
“I’m still uncomfortable with the way that drama played out,” added Selectwoman Laura Mailman.
“You can’t serve two masters,” she said. “Even with full disclosure, it still makes me very uncomfortable.”
Adding to the increasingly chilly atmosphere in the room, Selectman Rick Pinciaro ordered Riordan to “immediately turn over any and all notes on town projects to Bob Sinibaldi,” Merrimac’s recently appointed DPW commissioner.
The board then quickly but somewhat reluctantly approved Riordan’s three remaining invoices for his service to the town, totaling $9,125.38.
Water rates remain very much an item of concern in Merrimac, given the current $160,000 shortfall in Water Department revenues for the year. While new rates have not yet been determined, there is no question that they will rise significantly next year.
Merrimac’s base rate may increase from the current $11 to a new rate of $15 per quarter, and Finance Director Carol McLeod anticipates that the rate boost will bring in additional revenues of $190,000 next year.
A public hearing will be held on the proposed water rates, which will be posted 30 days in advance. The new rates would commence with the last water bill of the fiscal year, which will be mailed out in April, just in time for the springtime watering season.
Water usage in Merrimac is 17,000 gallons per year, costing $462.40 for the average home. With the proposed rate increase, domestic water use would cost $578 for the typical household.
“We’ve got to start looking at our budget holistically rather than individually,” said an exasperated Baumgardner. “We can’t always go to the taxpayers.”
He noted that some of the town’s departments are overfunded, warning that “we’ve got to figure out a way to start rolling in these charges, or we’ll be looking at a massive tax override.”
“We have people who are going to retire and we won’t be able to replace them at their current salaries,” he added.
Other items discussed at the meeting included:
Brush drop-off hours at the Mill Street site have been extended, 7 a.m.- 6 p.m. through Saturday. Site is located behind the salt barn off Broad Street. Residents only, no sticker required. Call 978-346-8939 for information.
Curbside leaf collection is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 6. Leaves should be in paper bags and placed curbside by 7 a.m.
Code Red emergency notification function is being overused for non-emergencies such as Halloween notices and power outages.
Response to the Transit Survey: Only one response has been received to date.