Monday, October 25, 2010

Brockton FD Hires 9 New Firefighters Tonight

The BrocktonPost
BROCKTON--The City Council tonight is expected to hire nine new firefighters to help man a department that has not seen any new hiring in the last five years.
"It will start to help beef up our department," said Fire Chief Richard Francis.
He said during Monday night's City Council meeting at 8 p.m., eight new members of the department are expected to receive approval.
Francis said a ninth firefighter has been on the job for nearly two weeks. Francis said the ninth man had been laid off from another department and due to Civil Service rules was first on the list for rehire.
Francis said the firefighter has begun working because he does not need to be trained.
The other eight new members, Francis said, will attend the Fire Academy and are expected to man the trucks by early February.
"We haven't hired going on 5 years," Francis said.
Francis said the new hires are due to savings from city employees who have retired.
Francis said the department had 36 vacancies and with the nine new firefighters brings the number of vacancies down to 27.
"It will make a dent. It will really help," Francis said, adding during the summer he had to take one truck out of service because of a lack of manpower and another was unmanned part of the time.
"This isn't grant money, this came about from retirements," Francis said. "The Mayor (Linda Balzotti) and (Chief Financial Officer) Mr. Condon really worked hard to get us this," he said.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bernardi Group Breaks Ground On $22 Million Brockton Dealerships

The BrocktonPost
BROCKTON—Lt. Governor Timothy Murray made a whirlwind tour of Brockton Thursday making three stops at Brockton businesses that have received money for growth and renovations, including a more than $22 million project under construction that will bring new Honda and Hyundai dealerships to Manley Street.
“The City of Brockton has not seen such a large scale investment of over $22 million in at least 10 years,” said State Representative Michael D. Brady in a prepared statement. “Not only have the thousands of travelers coming up Route 24 seen construction over the past few weeks, but they see a facelift in Brockton,” Brady said.
The project broke ground a few weeks ago and is estimated to bring 125 new permanent jobs to the region and construction workers have already begun to demolish a 204,000 square-foot-building to make room for new two commercial buildings.
The dealerships will be operated by the Bernardi Group, which has dealerships in Framingham and Boston.
“Bernardi Honda and Bernardi Hyundai will invigorate the marketplace as a destination drawing visitors from near and far,” said Jim Carney, president and owner of Bernardi Group in a statement. “We are honored to be welcomed to the City of Champions,” he said.
Financing for the project was jumpstarted by a $16 million Recovery Zone Facility bond—a loan program that supports public and private development by offering favorable borrowing rates for projects designated within so-called “recovery zones.”
During Murray’s visit Thursday, the governor’s office announced Montilio’s Bakery on Spark Street is the first business in the state to receive a Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation grant—a $60,000 short-term loan that will allow the bakery to buy new equipment to take on new accounts.
Murray also made another stop at Brockton Neighborhood Health Center on Main Street and highlighted the $11.3 million grant from U.S. Health and Human Services for the health center to construct four more floors to the facility to expand burgeoning radiology, dentistry, optometry and other departments.
Sue Joss, the health center’s executive director, said in a recent interview plans call for the 26,000-square-foot project to begin in the spring and be completed by the summer of 2012.
“We’ve been here for two years and we’ve already outgrown it,” Joss said.
The health center completed another $2.5 million expansion and renovation in June.
(Photo above of Montilio's employees and government officials courtesy of Governor Deval Patrick's office)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Water Commission In Hot Seat Over Closed Meeting

Note: Story originally posted Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010
By Lisa E. Crowley
Brockton Post
BROCKTON—At least three Brockton residents have filed complaints at City Hall alleging the Brockton Water Commission violated the state’s Open Meeting Law when it met in closed session Aug 30, hours after more than 75 protestors rallied against water bills they believe are grossly inaccurate.
Residents Bob Ford, Ayanna Yancey-Cato and Marianne Silva said they filed written complaints about the executive session, or closed meeting and have delivered those to the City Clerk’s office, the Water Commission and Attorney General.
All three violation petitioners confirmed they submitted the complaints and feel they have strong reason to believe the Water Commission broke the law when it met behind closed doors to reign in one of the commissioners, Patrick Quinn when dealing with the media over questions about the controversial water bills.
Yancey-Cato, best known for the $100,000 water bill that was reduced to $17,000, a figure she still disagrees with, said officials associated with the water department and commission seem to be doing whatever they want without regard for law or regulations and the suspected Open Meeting Law violation is just one example.
“Not only do I want the Open Meeting Law violation looked at, I want the whole department investigated. People think that’s what the audit is going to do, but it’s not,” she said.
Commissioner Quinn said in a telephone interview Wednesday night that he warned board members on Aug 30 that the reason they were going into executive session did not fall under any of the 10 exceptions allowed under the law—which include personnel disciplinary matters, union negotiations, the sale or lease of property or employee interviews. (Click here for all the Open Meeting Law exceptions)
“We were told we were going in to talk about internal policies,” Quinn said, “which is not one of the exceptions under the Open Meeting Law. Discussing policies should be done in the open,” Quinn said.
Quinn said he was the only member who voted against going into closed session and when he told members it wasn’t legal, he received a verbal warning.
When the board went behind closed doors, Quinn said, the conversation centered around Quinn’s own comments to the media and how to answer questions about water department problems, specifically from an Enterprise reporter.
“They spent an hour and a half berating me,” Quinn said. “That’s not one of the reasons allowed in the Open Meeting Law to go behind closed doors,” he said.
Bruce Malcolm, chairman of the water commission, when asked about a possible Open Meeting Law violation said in a telephone call Wednesday night that the City Solicitor’s office told him what they were planning to discuss was OK.
“We certainly did the right thing,” Malcolm said.
He then went on to say “it was a meaningless meeting about things the public wouldn’t care about. It was internal stuff. Who was speaking for the board,” he said.
Malcolm said the board quoted the section of the law the City Solicitor’s office gave the board and when asked what exception under the law the board cited when going into closed session, he cut off the conversation.
“I’m not going to discuss this anymore. If you want to put it on the Website go ahead. We listened to the City Solicitor, not Michelle DuBois. I’m done. Good night.”
Officials said water commission members Bruce Malcolm, Ossie Jordan, Jody Hickey and Margaret McGrath cited discussing a person’s reputation or potential dismissal when they voted to go into closed session.
Ward 6 City Councilor Michelle DuBois said in an interview Tuesday night that she was working with Ford, Yancey-Cato and Silva to bring complaints about the possible meeting violation.
“If they weren’t going to file a complaint, I was going to do it,” DuBois said.
DuBois said she and emailed members on Friday, at least three days before the Tuesday night meeting to prevent the Water Commission from meeting because she didn’t believe the meeting was properly posted and then the violation worsened, in her opinion, when members went behind closed doors.
DuBois said after initially stalled attempts, she has received a very poor quality voice recording of what was discussed in the closed session and proves the water commission did not meet the restrictions of the law.
“None of what they discussed falls under the exceptions,” DuBois said.
State guidelines require anyone filing a complaint about an Open Meeting Law violation must do so within 30 days of the meeting. Petitioners are required to file the complaint with the public body in question and the clerk’s office of the municipality.
The public body has 14 days to respond to the complaint, and if the petitioners are not satisfied with the response, may then file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office.
The complaint by the resident’s notes they believe the Water Commission’s actions were “intentional,” a change in the law that took effect July 1 that requires a board or board members broke the law intentionally in order to incur a fine of up to $1,000.
The complaint asks the Water Commission to vote that it now understands the Open Meeting Law regulations and that the Aug. 30 meeting was a violation. It also asks for further Open Meeting Law training for board members.
To hear the audio from the Water Board's meeting please visit

Somewhere Else Say Brockton Power Plant Opponents

Note: Story originally published Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010
Story by Lisa E. Crowley
The Brockton Post
BROCKTON—Advanced Power, the company which has proposed a 350-megawatt natural gas power plant on the south side of Brockton may have changed some of their plans in an attempt to gain support, but sentiment from residents and elected officials is the same—build it, just not in Brockton.
“None of these facilities seems to locate in Weston, Wellesley or Dover….or Hingham, Duxbury or Cohasset,” said Brockton resident and Plymouth County Clerk of Courts Robert Creedon Jr., during a nearly four-hour long public hearing Tuesday night about proposed changes to Advanced Power’s plans to build the plant on Oak Hill Way on the Brockton-West Bridgewater border.
Creedon’s comments were met by cheers, whoops and claps from the more than 200 hundred residents from Brockton and the Bridgewaters who filled the West Middle School auditorium to oppose the project.
Creedon’s comments also received boos and negative hoots from the more than 150 union workers from the Southeastern Masssachusetts Building Trades, many of whom came in two large buses to support the jobs that would be created as part of the power plant’s construction.
While some union members were from Brockton or surrounding communities, many were from Rhode Island.
The meeting, held by the Energy Facilities Siting Board, a division of the state Department of Public Utilities was one of many that have been held in Boston and Brockton about the proposed natural-gas plant since the company filed plans three years ago.
The Energy Facilities Siting Board, or EFSB, has approved the project, but local permits are still needed in Brockton and city board’s have rejected several due to height restrictions and environmental issues—rejections that have been appealed in court.
Tuesday night’s meeting was held because Advanced Power—also known as Brockton Clean Energy--has modified several aspects of the plant, including eliminating diesel fuel as a power generating option, using drinking water instead of waste water to cool generators—a move many said was worse-- and decreasing the size of a generator enclosure that while smaller would still exceed city height ordinances, city officials said.
The Siting Board now must make a decision on the changes. Department of Public Utilities Spokesman Tim Shevlin said the Siting Board will hold evidenciary hearings at its offices at South Station October 21, 26 and 28. He said the hearings are open to the public, but the public may not make comment. Shevlin said depending upon the first three evidenciary hearings, the Siting Board could hold two other hearings in November.
Shevlin said there is no "statutory time frame" for the Siting Board to make a decision on the new plans and could not speculate if it would be this year or next.
A lynch-pin in the project is the use of city water--drinking or waste water--a decision to be made by the City Council, whose members have vowed to vote against allowing Advanced Power the city's water.
Throughout the night nasty comments and cheers and jeers were launched as supporters on each side of the power plant debate spoke from 7:30 to about 11:15 p.m. when the hearing closed.
Plant opponents interrupted tattooed and swarthy pipe fitters and construction workers with comments of “go home” or “build it in your neighborhood,” while the union workers tossed barbs about the “white-haired Geritol club” not wanting to rebuild the country and put young people back to work.
Much of the night was hostile, heated and punctuated by a Brockton police officer positioning himself in pockets of verbal conflict between seated and standing attendees.
State Rep. Christine Canavan, who is running for reelection against Republican opponent John F. Cruz, after expressing staunch opposition to the plant returned to her seat in the auditorium and heard a comment from a man a few rows behind her say “so much for the labor vote.”
Canavan began shouting and asking, “are you threatening me, are you threatening me? Is that a threat,” and asked if there was a police officer.
The unidentified man, wearing a blue and yellow “support Brockton Clean Energy” sticker and sitting with a group of union members said, “what, all I said was so much for the labor vote.”
Canavan continued asking if it was a threat and asking for a police officer, adding “it’s been three years of this.”
The back-and-forth ended when a Brockton police officer stood near the seats.
Overall, many opponents cited a lack of trust in Advanced Power to keep its promises—such as not using diesel—a change several said could easily be reversed once the plant is built or flatly don’t believe the information provided about potentially toxic emissions from the plant’s operation.
Many also said a February explosion in Middletown, Conn., of a natural gas plant under construction that killed five people show harm to the surrounding populace from such a plant is real and not just unusual or rare.
City Councilor at Large Todd Petti said the explosion changed his mind about the project and he will now support his fellow council members against the project after supporting it for most of the project’s life. Until his change of heart, Petti was the only city councilor who would vote in favor of allowing the company to use the city's water.
While now being against the plant, Petti said he still believes its construction would be a windfall economically for the city—the company expects to add about $3 million to the city’s cash-strapped coffers from taxes and fees and would pay $1.5 to $2 million per year for the city’s water.
“I believe all the changes made by Advanced Power are worth the (EFSB’s) attention,” Petti said. “It’s in their lap,” he said.
Petti also questioned how much money was being spent on fighting the proposal.
“To date we have spent $314,000 in legal and consultants’ fees,” Petti said. “Have we gotten our money’s worth? What have we achieved? How much do we want to spend fighting this,” he said.
For many residents, fighting the plant with words and money is the only way to protect the city from having to accept another project that could be harmful to residents.
“We assume the risks and Brockton Power assumes the profits,” said Brockton resident Kate Archard.

Ginny Curtis Remembered As Feisty, Energetic

Note: Story originally posted Monday, Sept. 20, 2010
Brockton Post
BROCKTON—Family and friends Tuesday will fondly remember the life of one of the city’s most active and energetic residents—Mary Virginia (Long) Curtis—who led a lifetime of service and involvement in the city.
“She was feisty and she had a ton of energy. She was always involved, she was always ready to help,” said Ward 2 City Councilor Thomas Monahan.
Known as “Ginny,” Curtis died Thursday, Sept. 16 surrounded by her loved ones at Braemoor Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Brockton after struggling with medical problems for several years.
She was 91-years-old.
Visiting hours will be held Tuesday, Sept. 21 from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at Russell & Pica Funeral Home, 165 Belmont St., followed by a funeral mass at 11 a.m. at St. Patrick Church, 335 Main St. Internment will follow at Calvary Cemetery in Brockton.
Curtis was very well known throughout the city because of her tireless involvement in many community activities and organizations.
She was a founding member of Brockton Interfaith Community, a board member of the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center, a Neighborhood Crime Watch leader, a volunteer at the Council on Aging, an indispensable fundraiser for the public library and was an active member of the Democratic City Committee and volunteered for many candidates’ runs for state and local elections.
Monahan said he and state Senator Thomas Kennedy have known Curtis since they were young boys.
“She actually babysat for Tom,” Monahan said.
Monahan said Curtis helped him campaign for his current seat on the City Council.
“She was a great lady,” he said.
In 1999 Curtis was awarded Woman of the Year by the Commission on Women’s Issues and the same year she received the Enterprise Champion of the City award.
For decades Curtis lived on Winthrop Street adjacent to James Edgar Playground, where she admonished young residents to take care of their community and volunteered countless hours keeping the park clean and safe.
Monahan said a group of residents will collect donations for a plaque in Curtis’ honor to be placed at the playground. Monahan said the plan is to dedicate the plaque next spring when volunteers hold the next park cleanup.
While Curtis will be remembered for her involvement in civic and political affairs, she was also a leader in the religious community.
A lifelong member of St. Patrick Church, Curtis also served the church as a Eucharist Minister and Alter Server.
Monahan, also a member of St. Patrick’s, said Curtis kept an eye on him and if he missed Sunday mass, she required he say several prayers as penance.
“If I missed Sunday mass, I heard about it,” he said.
For more information on Curtis’ funeral arrangements and directions, please visit Russell & Pica Funeral Home.

Inspector General Opens Investigation of Brockton Water Bills

Note: Story originally posted Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010
Story by Lisa E. Crowley
Brockton Post
BROCKTON—Brockton residents who believe their water bills are more than just inaccurate or caused by mechanical malfunctions have filed complaints with the state Inspector General’s Office and have been contacted by the agency for documents related to their bills.
Bob Ford, a 66-year-old-retiree who has been at odds with the city water department since he received a bill in February for $11,700, said he was contacted last week by Brendan McCabe, a representative with the Inspector General’s Office requesting water bills, consumption reports and other documents related to water bills that residents have said are disproportionate with how much water they could have used.
"They think we are all just a bunch of sheep--whatever the city says we'll do," Ford said.
Ford said, so far, he and two others have submitted documentation toward an investigation of the billing problem and as word spreads to other residents that the agency is reviewing the problems, expects other homeowners to follow suit.
“The IG's Office is particularly interested in the Jan. 19 actual bill,” Ford said.
Josh Giles, a spokesman for the IG’s office, said “standard procedure is we can neither confirm or deny if there is an investigation.”
Giles confirmed McCabe is an employee of the IG’s Office.
The mission of the IG’s office, according to the agency’s Website is to “prevent and detect fraud, waste and abuse in government,” and includes operational and management reviews.
The investigation by the IG’s office is the latest move by Brockton residents who are fighting widespread discrepancies in water bills over the last few months--or for some over many years.
Ford said he believes, in his case, the IG’s Office is as interested as he himself is to learn how the water department gained an actual reading of his meter on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010 and mailed him a bill for an actual read he calls "fraudulent."
“How did they read it,” Ford asked. “Both me and my wife were home and nobody came to the house and my meter is in the basement—does the city have employees from another planet with X-ray vision like Superman,” he said.
He received the bill in February for $11,700 and the bill claimed he used 70,000 cubic feet of water—500,000 gallons—during the dead of winter. Under normal circumstances, Ford said, his bill usually runs about $2oo per quarter for about 2,000 cubic feet of water.
“How did they read it,” Ford said. Prior to the reading, Ford said, his bills had been estimated.
Ford said he met with water department officials in March who told him his meter was read with an outside electronic device—one of the ones the city has admitted are often faulty and will be replaced over the next 18 months.
“I have proof that device hasn’t worked in years,” Ford said.
He said department employees also tried to convince him he had used 500,000 gallons of water in a three month period--suggesting he had leaks from his pool—which was not being used during the fall and winter—or possibly children playing with an outside hose, or excessive inside water use or an undetected leak in the toilet.
Ford said employees over and over told him he had been undercharged for months, possibly years, but he does not believe it.
“They’re trying to put all the responsibility on the homeowner instead of their own mismanagement,” Ford said.
Public Works Commissioner Michael Thoreson, who could not be immediately reached for comment, has said the water department is working with residents, however, Tuesday night during a meeting of the City Council Finance Committee said he could not answer why even actual bills and not estimated bills are believed to be way off.
Ward 6 City Councilor Michelle DuBois during the meeting said she is worried that the actual readings are a problem along with the estimated bills and it’s a situation that has to be looked at.
“Every day people come to me and are calling me wondering if they will get bills in the thousands somewhere down the road,” DuBois said. “This is not just an issue of estimated bills,” she said, citing numerous instances of problems related to actual bills and even homeowners who contacted the city because they had not received a water bill during the first six months of occupancy and have been dealing with the department over the problem for seven years.
To rounds of applause DuBois questioned why the city was charging people 2 or 4 or 10 years back for estimated water bills when most communities do not extend those charges so far back.
She could not be immediately reached for further comment.
City Councilor Jass Stewart said the water department and the city certainly has a public relations problem and in many of the high profile cases the water department did not act the way he'd want civil servants to act.
“A lot of things don’t make sense, and it’s clear people have lost confidence in the water department,” Stewart said.
However, he believes the process will work in the end and except in extreme instances water department officials acted appropriately, but may need more customer service training.
“We’re hearing 200 or 300 people are calling a day and when people are calling you and shouting and calling you nasty names and you’re not used to that kind of volume of calls it’s not easy,” he said. “Maybe we need to give those employees more training,” Stewart said.
Stewart said there are a myriad of problems with the situation, including the inability of the water department to gain access to the meters.
The city council is mulling a new ordinance that would allow the city into a home after a certain amount of attempts.
Also, the council Tuesday night has voted to issue a Request for Proposals for an outside auditor to review all of the problems in the water department—a process that will take at least three to four months—possibly longer.
Mayor Linda Balzotti, who wanted to hire an auditor nearly two months ago, but acceded to the City Council’s wish to have a public RFP process, said she undertstands people's frustrations because she is frustrated too.
“People want me to do something, make a decision, but I can’t do anything or make a decision without answers. The audit will give us recommendations and resolutions and until then I don’t have any answers to the questions people are asking,” she said.
In the meantime, Balzotti said residents should check their bills and continue to contact the water department if they have any discrepancies.
She emphasized residents should pay the current bill—unless it is completely out of proportion and in that case contact the water department—and await the results of the audit.
The City Council will meet Monday, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. to draft the scope and charge of the RFP for the independent auditor.
In the meantime, Ford said he isn't waiting for the audit because he believes he needs outside help for his situation.
"All they're doing is CYA," Ford said.

No Quick Answers To Water Bill Overcharges, Audit, System Overhaul

Note: Story originally posted Tuesday Aug. 17, 2010
By Lisa E. Crowley
Brockton Post
BROCKTON—A similar move by two city councilors has postponed Mayor Linda Balzotti’s plan to hire an independent auditor to review on-going water department billing and metering system problems that have plagued the department and has prompted more than 100 calls a day about overcharges and other problems.
Instead, City Councilors Thomas Brophy and Thomas Monahan have requested the City Council issue a Request for Proposals advertisement, or RFP, for an independent auditor to review the water department’s systems—a request that prompted Balzotti to stop her plans to hire an auditor under her authority as mayor which she announced late last week.
“We think it best serves the public’s need to know,” said Councilor-at-Large Thomas Brophy. “It’s not someone chosen by the mayor or anybody else,” he said.
Balzotti announced in a statement late last Thursday afternoon that she had decided to hire Mark D. Abrahams, head of Framingham-based Abrahams Group, to begin an audit of the water department’s billing and metering systems.
She said Abrahams has more than 30 years in public accounting and financial systems and worked with the city when it integrated a city-school general accounting system several years ago.
“There’s no question about his qualifications,” Balzotti said. “He would have done a great job, and he would have started this week, instead of two or three months from now,” she said.
Balzotti had expected to hold a private meeting with Abrahams and other city officials Tuesday (Aug. 17), but it was cancelled after Brophy and Monahan requested a city council order for an independent auditor to be put out to bid instead of the Mayor acting on her own.
She said John Condon, the city's chief financial officer, began seeking an independent auditor in late July, after a controversy broke out over an abundance of astronomical water bills received by numerous residents.
Since the latest controversy began in June, Department of Public Works Commissioner Michael Thoreson said the water department has received more than 100 calls a day with questions about bills and other metering problems.
"I guess all the negative publicity has been a good thing, because we want people to call us," Thoreson said.
He said the department received about 160 calls on Monday.
Balzotti said although she will not fight the city council on the matter, she believes the faster the audit is done the better, but in the name of cooperation has agreed to wait for the RFP process to work its way through—which could be three months or more as opposed to the 4 to 6 weeks she expected Abrahams to bring some recommendations.
“I let the city council order go through so when there are recommendations and solutions it will be something everyone can agree with,” Balzotti said. “When the work is done we’ll have some answers, until then, there will be an audit, but not many answers for a few months—probably at least two billing cycles,” she said.
Brophy said while the RFP process maybe slower, it’s the right way to go.
“It’s the best way to ensure the public trust,” Brophy said.
He said the auditor RFP question is expected on the City Council’s Monday night meeting (Aug. 23) agenda. He said usually an item on its first reading is sent to the finance committee for review and recommendation, slowing the process even more.
However, Brophy said, the board can suspend those rules and ask for action that night, and he expects the question to at least be discussed if not approved Monday.
In the meantime, city officials expect to continue sorting through billing overcharges similar to the ones that have surfaced in the media, including one woman who received a bill for $100,000.
“Anyone who has an estimated bill should contact the water department,” said DPW Commissioner Michael Thoreson.
He said about 1,000 letters were sent to homeowners last Friday. Those 1,000 are residents who have had estimated bills for more than six billings cycles or about 1 ½ years.
Water bills are sent to residents every quarter--every three months--and are marked either estimated bills or actual bills.
Thoreson said estimated bills—and their resulting astronomical overcharges--or in some cases undercharges--are a product of two things: the city’s inability to enter homes to read water meters and the accelerated breakdown of the city’s data reading devices that are attached to those meters.
He said water department employees have manually read more than 8,600 meters during the last billing cycle because of the breakdowns in the electronic metering devices that are outputting information to billing systems about water usage per gallon that are wrong in many cases.
“This is nothing new, and we knew the system was failing and had problems, but recently it began failing exponentially,” Thoreson said.
Thoreson said the current system was installed around 1993-1995 and at the time was state-of-the-art and expected to last about 10 years.
“We got about five more years out of it,” Thoreson said.
The City Council about three months ago approved an $11 million bond bill to pay for an updated, state-of-the-art meter reading system—which in part will be paid through a state grant that received state approval this year after two other failed requests for the low-interest funding.
Thoreson said the billing and meter reading problems have been going on for about three to five years, but because there was no money to replace the systems, the water department did the best it could.
“We have employees working 10-12 hour days, Saturdays and nights to get these meters read and solve these problems,” Thoreson said.
He said he resented comments that the department was “sloppy” or “incompetent."
Thoreson said an RFP for one of four parts of the meter system replacement is expected to be advertised next Tuesday.
Thoreson said the four parts of upcoming bids for the new system are:
1) replacing electronic devices on the outside of the meters that are supposed to feed usage information without being in the home;
2) replacing wires and setting up a data delivery system to replace telephone land lines that once uploaded usage info for billing but because residents use cell phones and not land lines are now obsolete;
3) computer software and radio systems to transmit data and offer greater error detection;
4) and lastly the installation of the new devices, software and radio systems in homes and at the water department.
The first advertisement, Thoreson said, will be for the replacement of the outside electronic devices, and followed shortly after by the next three parts of the project.
He said once all the bids have been reviewed and discussed--a process he hopes will be completed by late fall--Thoreson said he estimated it would take 18 months to install the new equipment in the homes and businesses of the city’s 24,000-plus water users.
“Once we start, we’re not going to stop until we’re done,” Thoreson said.
Another measure to make the replacement process easier, Thoreson said, is a new city ordinance that would allow city officials to enter homes that have not responded to requests to install the new equipment.
He said with the foreclosure crisis and other reasons, the city has come up against a host of problems entering properties with absentee landlords or landlords who advise tenants not to allow meter readers into the home.
The ordinance has not yet received approval, Thoreson said.

Protesters Demand Water Bill, Dept. Changes

Note: Story originally posted Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010
Story and photos by Lisa E. Crowley
Brockton Post
BROCKTON—Whether the bill came eight weeks ago or eight years ago, nearly 100 Brockton residents Monday banded together in a peaceful protest at City Hall Plaza against not only the water department’s billing and metering problems, but also a “circle the wagons” mentality that has frustrated some who have sought to challenge water use bills the department admits could be inaccurate.
“They’re trying to place everything on the homeowners,” said Bob Ford, whose bill jumped from about $205 to more than $12,000 in less than a year and has been fighting his bills for over seven years. “They have said it was underbilling and underestimating…undermanaged—that’s the ‘under’ they didn’t put in,” Ford said.
The group of protesters formed in front of city hall Monday at 3:30 p.m. Several members spoke to media and TV crews, while others collected signatures and have vowed to follow the issue until there is a resolution—a resolution that many believe should include someone’s job.
“They should have been doing more—they should have contacted people, if they knew it was a problem. They didn’t do anything. They circled the wagons and blamed it on the homeowners,” Ford said.
Most in the crowd, like Ayanna Yancey-Cato (Pictured above at top), whose $100,000 bill has been reduced to $17,000, talked of how they had questioned their bill and, in many cases, had the bill reduced, but were not made aware of the system-wide problems, including an admitted problem with the metering and billing system.
Many feel they overpaid for water they did not use.
One of those is MariAnne Silva, (Pictured below) who said she contacted the water department two weeks ago for a bill that jumped from about $200 to over $2,000. She said the amount was reduced by more than $900, but she believes the number is still wrong, but paid it anyway.
“They weren’t helpful at all and I still think (the bill)is wrong,” Silva said.
Two women Sandra Brown (Pictured above with a FIXED bill), and Kathy Jewett, a resident of Fieldside Gardens Condominium were in the minority. Jewett said she received a bill for $55,000 that the meter calculated over an 8-day period.
She had it reduced to $2,000 and believes the water department dealt with her in a friendly way--and no, neither Brown or Jewett are related to anyone working in City Hall.
“If you don’t go in screaming and yelling—and you have to watch your bill. If you’re a homeowner you have to keep track,” Jewett said.
Mayor Linda Balzotti and the City Council are working to hire an independent auditor to review the problems and make recommendations.
Tuesday night, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at city hall the City Council Finance Committee will discuss advertising for an auditor to sort out the bills.
Balzotti, who had prior commitments and did not attend the rally, said in a prepared statement that she is as frustrated as homeowners and will make a presentation during the finance committee meeting.
Councilor-at-large Thomas Brophy said officials are trying to come up with a resolution--including limiting how many years back homeowners should be billed for problems in the city's metering system--because of me and is not yet sure if anyone in the water department should be fired or sanctioned over the matter.
“Should somebody be fired? I’m not ready to assess blame yet,” Brophy said. “I don’t want to lay any blame until we have the audit—the audit will give us a better idea of what happened,” he said.
The city is in the process of replacing its metering and billing system, however, the $11 million project will not be completed for at least 18 months--more than a year and at least four water bill cycles.
In the meantime, Ward 6 City Councilor Michelle DuBois (Pictured above talking to homeowner) urged any resident who has questions about their water bills to contact the water department (508-580-7135), mayor's office (508-580-7123) and city council.
For more coverage of the water issue click here.