WINCHESTER - There’s a famous poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that contains the couplet “Water, water everywhere/nor any drop to drink” about a sailor stranded at sea surrounded by salt water that he cannot drink.
Winchester may not be surrounded by undrinkable salt water, but the town definitely knows a thing or two about water being everywhere. For years the town, originally known as Waterfield, suffered serious flooding issues whenever a severe storm hit. But thanks to the many flood mitigation projects the town finds itself in uncharted waters (no pun intended): most residents have been removed from the floodplain and flooding isn’t the serious problem it used to be.
However, the town must still deal with stormwater, especially as it flows into the Aberjona River. To remedy the situation, the Select Board, with the assistance of Town Engineer Beth Rudolph, settled on a stormwater fee that used a tiered structure to determine who pays what. The more impervious surface a resident has, the more they contribute to stormwater runoff, therefore, the more they would pay to alleviate such runoff.
(Impervious surface means any surface that doesn’t contain rainwater such as concrete driveways, roofs, sidewalks, sheds, etc.)
The board created a warrant article and brought it to Town Meeting for approval. The article laid out how the bylaw would work - who would pay and who was exempt (the town), the effective date, how the money is used, who’s responsible for collecting the fees, and how to appeal - but didn’t address the issue of how much each tier owed or the difference between each tier.
After discussion, Town Meeting rejected the article, citing many factors: some didn’t favor the tiered structure and preferred a flat fee, some didn’t feel the town should be exempt, some didn’t believe the appeal process worked, and some simply didn’t want to pay another “tax.”
This week, the Select Board and Town Engineer met to discuss how to move forward. Rudolph asked for direction on whether to pursue a flat fee, adjust the water & sewer rates or press on the with the tiered structure. She said her department could still do a fiscal analysis for the tiered structure.
Select Board member Michael Bettencourt proposed doing fiscal analysis for both the tiered structure and flat fee and bringing them both to Spring Town Meeting next April. However, chair Mariano Goluboff suggested doing the analysis on both, plus the water & sewer adjustment before the board even thinks about Town Meeting.
Two other members, Amy Shapiro and Susan Verdicchio, felt the board didn’t give Town Meeting enough information. Shapiro said they didn’t tell Town Meeting what the difference between each tier would be while Verdicchio felt the board itself needed more information on the timeline, financial impact and what needs to be done.
To gather more information, Goluboff established an advisory board headed up by Shapiro and Verdicchio to meet with staff and hold public meetings to keep Town Meeting members in the loop. In fact, Bettencourt pushed to have Town Meeting representation on the board. Jim Whitehead, former Select Board member, said the board should go to each precinct and bring in Town Meeting members.
Rudolph said she would start the process first, then meet with the advisory board. Once the board gets going, Select Board member Jacqueline Welch proposed using Town Manager Lisa Wong’s presentation to Town Meeting as a jumping off point.
Until Spring Town Meeting, the town does have $700,000 in the Water & Sewer Retained Earnings to deal with any stormwater issues, though Goluboff noted that $450,000 would be used this fiscal year.