Bill dispute prompts discussion

More than 15 million gallons of water were used at Whalley Park from April – October, 2012. Parks Commissioners have said they do not believe they should have to pay for it.  (File photo by chief photographer Frederick Gore)

SOUTHWICK – Water Commissioners met with Finance Committee Vice Chairman Robert Horacek last night to discuss the Whalley Park water bill.
The $69,670.90 bill is for 15.5 million gallons of water used at Whalley Park from April – October, 2012. The bill was sent to the Parks and Recreation Commission, which oversees the park since the town accepted it as a gift from John and Kathy Whalley at the October Town Meeting.
Parks Commissioners have said they do not believe they should have to pay the bill and do not have the funds to pay.
Horacek was acting as liaison to the Parks and Recreation and the Water Commission last night.
“I’m here to try to understand what’s what and how to try to mitigate this,” Horacek said.
Water Commission Chairman Luther Hosmer said it’s his understanding that the Board of Selectmen are hoping the comission will forgive the bill. He said doing so would cost the water users because they would ultimately be paying the bill.
“To be fair, the whole town should pay because they’re all getting the use of the facility, not just the water users,” said Hosmer.
The Parks and Recreation Commission does receive a bill for water used at the Town Beach, and has since the beach opened. Horacek said based on that history, it makes sense that the commission would be billed for water at Whalley Park.
“I think because this is a start-up they haven’t had the ability to rent the park and make any money, so this bill is like the cart before the horse,” Horacek said.
“Yes, but they used the water, they had the meters put in, and they used it,” said Hosmer.
Horacek said going forward the Park Commission should include water in its budget.  However, before they got the bill, commissioners didn’t know about the water situation.
“No one ever came to us to talk about it,” said Water Commissioner Edward C. Johnson.
Horacek asked commissioners what the water actually costs, without the electrical and other related costs that are part of the water rate.
Hosmer said he did not know off-hand, but would find out.
“I think we can work something out,” he told Horacek. “But I don’t see giving it to them.”
Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Jeffrey Neece noted that irrigation and fertilizer are likely to be the two biggest maintenance expenses of the park. Commissioners asked about the projected budget of Whalley Park. Horacek said the number he received was $45,000.
“In our estimate, that’s not nearly what they’ll need,” he added.
Neece said the water use in 2012 was so high because the grass was being established. He guessed that water costs in the future would be in the $30,000-$40,000 range.
Horacek and Hosmer agreed that a resolution must be agreed upon soon.
“But we just can’t give it away,” said Hosmer.
During last night’s meeting the commission reminded residents that water rates will go up to $4.75 per 1,000 gallons May 1.

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