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Ruminations

As much as I love democracy and openness in government, there are times when I find myself sitting at public meetings and wondering why they are even being held. Case in point: buying the Milford Water Company.

The reasons for having the public forums are simple: It's borrowing $63 million. It's raising water rates. It affects probably 95 percent of the town. You all have a right to know as much as possible about it, even if only Town Meeting Members get to vote on it.

The reasons for not having the public forums: Why is this even being debated? The town has no control – repeat, no control – over the quality of the water you drink. The folks who do are quite content to let something that looks like it belongs in a sewer pipe come out of your faucets. Almost every city and town in the state except Milford controls its own water supply and distribution. After the infamous 2009 "boil water" incident, you'd think taking over the water company was a foregone conclusion.

But, there are rules and procedures to follow. This is not a dictatorship, where the town can just seize the utility and tell it what to do – contrary to what some people asking questions at the most recent forum thought.

One man incredulously asked why the Board of Selectmen couldn't just order the private company what to do. Another apparently could not understand Town Counsel Gerry Moody's explanation of the restrictions included in the state legislative charter that created the Milford Water Company and makes it the town's sole water supplier. Yet another asked why there was no plan besides buying or not buying.

Welcome to government, folks! All your experience in private business is practically meaningless when it comes to the intricacies of government rules and regulations. For example: It takes a townwide vote to decide whether to allow retail marijuana stores in town, but only a two-thirds' vote of 240 Town Meeting Members to spend $63 million to but the Milford Water Company. Does that really make sense? Not to me. But, those are the rules government gave us.

By the way, some people don't seem to understand how the $63 million was arrived at, and felt it should be renegotiated. A much smarter person than I am – a professional arbitrator with considerable experience in running the largest water service in the state (the MWRA) – came up with that number. And, it's actually less than what the town's consultants think the assets of the Milford Water Company are worth.

While we are all naturally distrustful of government and think anyone else could do the job better, all you have to do is go to www.milfordma.gov/milford-water-company-acquisition/pages/milford-water-company-acquisition-documents and take the time to educate yourself by reading all the documents posted there and you might come to the conclusion that a lot of work has been done to investigate the water company, its assets and its finances and determine if makes financial sense for the town to do so.

Yeas ago, my high school economics teacher taught me the acronym, TANSTAAFL. It stands for "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." Somebody, somewhere is paying for it. If you want better water quality, you have to pay for it. The big difference if the town owns it will be that somebody can be held accountable for what comes out of your faucet.




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