NEWINGTON - A recently passed piece of state legislation promises to safeguard the town against other towns’ inability to pay their water and sewer fees to the Metropolitan District Commission.
As one of the agency’s eight member towns, Newington faced having to make up for Hartford’s potential defaulted payments earlier this year, before the agency enacted several recent provisions.
The bill was recently approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate, and is currently awaiting the governor’s signature before going into immediate effect.
MDC commissioners updated the Town Council on the new legislation at its meeting this week, in an effort to improve service outreach to member towns and other customers. Dominic Pane, who also serves as vice chairman of the Town Plan and Zoning Commission, said the bill will provide for situations like the one that could have occurred in Hartford.
“Basically if a town defaults on its payment the state will pay the MDC before they pay any grants to that particular city, so the MDC will be guaranteed its payment,” Pane explained.
City officials have guaranteed that they will make payments through at least this July. If Hartford or any other town is unable to pay its water bills in the future the MDC will not hold other member towns responsible.
The bill also amends the body’s charter so funds can be sought in case of an emergency, such as a sewer line break that needs repairing. That type of event wouldn’t be budgeted for in the general fund, so this would allow the MDC to apply for a loan to do the work.
The first section of the act establishes an independent consumer advocate, who the agency would hire to inform the public and municipal officials of matters affecting them. This individual would be free of local interests in any member town and would be charged with serving consumers for a two-year term.
“In my opinion the MDC works like a very fine machine but at the same time we have to keep our eyes on everything,” Buphen Patel of the MDC told councilors Tuesday. “That’s our job and your job, too. Obviously there are issues that needed to be resolved and all towns are working together to do that.”
Another new initiative already implemented this year is a monthly billing plan. In February the agency officially ended its outdated quarterly system, Finance Director Robert Coswell said Tuesday. During severe droughts like those the state has had in recent years, people are asked to reduce their water usage.
“Many customers did not have any knowledge how much they were consuming in the summer months,” he pointed out. “By going to monthly billing it’s going to allow people to manage that consumption better.”
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.