By Lisa E. Crowley
BrocktonPost—If Mayor Linda Balzotti follows the recommendation of the Brockton City Council and approves a two or three-year lookback period on disputed water bills, many residents like Bob Ford believe their problems may be solved and await Balzotti’s decision, however, many believe it should not be the last step to resolve the problems in the Department of Public Works.
Ford, who was the first resident to make his water bill problem public last August and has had his bill reduced to $12,000—an amount he refuses to pay and believes is erroneous--said he believes if either the two or three-year lookback is enacted he should get a refund.
“I think I will be completely vindicated,” Ford said. “I should get a refund. I wonder if I should charge 14 percent interest,” he added.
Ford and a group of other residents in Brockton United Voices which formed last fall after the water billing debacle began, are waiting patiently for Balzotti to decide if she will follow the City Council’s recommendation made Monday, July 25.
Balzotti, in a telephone interview, said she is in favor of a lookback period that would limit how many years the water department can charge residents on disputed bills and could save many thousands, but is not sure if a two-year or three-year restriction will make an impact on the city’s treasury and other areas.
“I have not had the opportunity to see what the implications are,” Balzotti said. She said along with not knowing what it would cost the water department, it is unclear how many of 700 accounts that have been identified as having problems or disputes.
She said if she approves the lookback policy, it would include businesses and commercial entities, too.
“It’s at the utmost top of my agenda. I want residents to be at ease, but I have to find out what the ramifications are between the two-year and three-year,” Balzotti said. “I’m amenable to a lookback, but I don’t know what the implications will be,” she said.
Balzotti said she will make a decision “as soon as possible” and has made the information and decision a priority, but noted there are vacations and other issues slowing the process this week.
She could not give a timeline when she might make a decision.
Estimates of much money a two or three-year limit would cost were unavailable. Speculation from residents ranged from $25,000 to a possible $1 million or more.
While officials analyze the costs to the city, residents and business owners have been analyzing the costs to their pocketbooks and peace of mind, with many calling for new management in the water department and public works.
Ford said he believed if city officials only charge him for two or three years use of water, he should be given a refund.
He doesn’t know if he will get it, and is not sure if he will have to fight for some of his money back.
Since the beginning he has called for the removal of many of the water department’s heads, including Director Michael Thoreson and Brian Creedon.
Ford’s outspokenness and provocative remarks have not won him any friends in the water department or with some city officials.
“There’s an election coming up,” Ford said, noting resident Ron Matta will attempt to unseat Balzotti.
Stoughton resident Gerald Goulston, who refuses to pay a water bill that was lowered from $22,000 to $11,000 and now is at $8,500 on a Westside Brockton home, believes the whole matter has been handled badly, but hopes for some people the lookback brings closure to a harrowing problem.
“The lookback is a concession, yes, and the lookback policy might help some people, but what about all those people who have had their lives turned upside down,” Goulston said. “There are a lot of issues that remain unresolved,” he said.
Goulston said much damage has been done to many residents who had liens put on their property for not paying disputed bills—a situation that ballooned many residents’ monthly mortgage payments and in some cases may have triggered foreclosures on homes.
“People in the city are so sick and tired of it, so tired of fighting it. They knew there was a problem in 2005 and when problems started they blamed the residents. What they did was so wrong,” Goulston said.
“People in Brockton will not have any faith in the Brockton Water Department until there is a change—a management change,” he said.
City Councilor-at-large Jass Stewart said he hopes the new lookback policy will help, but, like Balzotti, doesn’t know what the impact of limiting the number of years the city seeks to bill for potentially used water.
Stewart said he voted in favor of the two-year along with the other city councilors because it is a way to help residents.
“We don’t know how much is at stake, but I feel like these residents have been through the ringer over this,” Stewart said. “The city is culpable for having so many estimated bills for so long,” he said.
David Kruger, a Newton resident who owns two homes in Brockton, said the whole situation has been maddening for residents, especially when people began to research how similar situations were handled elsewhere, and although not a Brockton resident, believes Thoreson, who Kruger said treated him well, may not be the best person to lead the public works department.
“Get someone in there who knows what they’re doing,” Kruger said. “The DPW is not performing well,” he said.