WESTFIELD- The Municipal Light Board did not take a vote Wednesday evening on the proposal for Westfield Gas and Electric to give the City of Westfield a $1 million In Lieu of Tax (ILOT) payment to help with city expenses amidst a pandemic.
Members of the board cited a lack of knowledge for what the money would be specifically used for and a desire to know more information before giving the large amount of money to the city. The School Committee and City Council had asked the MLB for the cash before their meeting in July.
Mayor Donald F. Humason said that the city did not receive the money that it normally would have had there not been a pandemic. The School Committee was able to find $1.5 million in free cash that they used to prevent layoffs, but it did not cover the entire budget deficit.
Commission Chair Robert Sacco said that he understands the city’s need for the money but that the MLB and WG&E are first beholden to their own ratepayers, not to the residents of the City of Westfield as a whole.
“Any step we take has to be in light of my fiduciary duty to the ratepayers,” said Sacco.
Ward 2 Commissioner Ray Rivera said that the MLB could probably best help the city via their rate forgiveness program that the board is trying to put in place. He said he fears that giving the money to the city could get the utility in financial trouble if more storms damage their equipment again.
“We give up that million; we just had a huge storm. We just had a transformer go down. Anything can happen,” said Rivera. “We have a responsibility to WG&E to make sure they stay viable and that we can keep the rates where they are.”
Ward 3 Commissioner Dawn Renaudette said she wants to first see what the city plans to do with the funds. She said also that she does not want to have to raise rates next year if the company does not have the money in the stabilization fund, which the $1 million would come from.
“There are a lot of pieces we need to consider before making any decision on that still,” said Renaudette.
Ward 5 Commissioner Tom Flaherty said that the money would not necessarily end up going to where the city says it will go, as that would be up to Mayor Humason after the money is transferred.
Commissioner Sacco said that the letter sent by the city was a “woefully inadequate” request in the amount of detail that was given to the MLB.
“I think it would be a very insufficient amount of information to act on such a large amount of money,” said Sacco.
Sacco said that the $1 million in assistance would appear on next month’s MLB agenda, but only as a placeholder pending the final city budget.