By Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
The Fairhaven Board of Public Works meeting on 8/25 proceeded despite a so-called “glitch” in the meeting notice posting, which was posted for two days but not a full 48 hours. The board discussed the agenda items but withheld from taking any votes, including a vote to adjourn the meeting when it ended, which Chairperson Brian Wotton voiced would not be allowed because it was a form of a vote.
At the start of the meeting, BPW Vice Chair Robert “Hoppy” Hobson was eager to know if fellow board member Frank Coelho was satisfied in his research of some prior still-yet-to-be-signed bills and willing to approve signing them. Mr. Hobson asked BPW Office Manager Becky Vento if there had been a conclusion to a recent visit Mr. Coelho made to her office to review said bills and understand the bill signing process.
“I’m still reviewing them,” said Mr. Coelho.
“I would like to know what the outcome was, asking all these questions about the bills,” said Mr. Hobson. “I want to know why he’s asking it and what he’s found.”
“Well, you can’t blame the guy —” began BPW Superintendent Vincent Furtado before Mr. Hobson interrupted him.
“I’m not blaming the guy,” said Mr. Hobson over Mr. Furtado.
Mr. Coelho said the board has the right to ask questions and since he is unfamiliar with the process bills go on their way to the BPW desk, he was trying to get caught up.
“I don’t know what the problem is and why I should have to explain what I’m doing as far as checking something out,” said Mr. Coelho. “You got the same right — you’re here [at the BPW building] more than I am.”
“I been on the board for ten years,” said Mr. Hobson. “I don’t even know why you’re questioning them.” He explained that superintendents submit bills to Mr. Furtado who passes them to Ms. Vento, who then presents them to the board. After they are signed the Town’s finance director reviews them.
“That’s the routine for 10 years,” Mr. Hobson said.
Mr. Furtado said BPW staff also keeps an updated tally of the budget on the back of the bills packet every two weeks and that there are thorough checks and balances.
Mr. Hobson asked Ms. Vento how many times Mr. Coelho has visited her to talk about bills. She said only once or twice.
“What difference does it make?” asked Mr. Coelho. “Can I–”
“I got the floor! I got the floor!” Mr. Hobson said raising his voice. “When I’m done with the floor you can ask your question!”
“How many times did he meet with you?” he asked Ms. Vento.
“I think this is the second time,” she replied.
“And what did he find so far?” asked Mr. Hobson.
“I still haven’t made a decision on what I’ve found,” said Mr. Coelho.
Ms. Vento said Mr. Coelho is still trying to figure out the process and get up to speed and making sure he feels comfortable with what he is signing.
“Yeah–” began Mr. Wotton before Mr. Hobson spoke over him.
Mr. Furtado also tried using a friendly tone to say that Mr. Coelho was right to try to understand what he was signing, and Mr. Hobson spoke over him as well.
“You want to know what you’re signing,” said Mr. Wotton.
When he could, Mr. Coelho began to speak, saying, “If you’re a board member you should be able to understand and know exactly what you’re doing if you have any questions about any procedure or policy…. I should have the right to ask Becky or go to a superintendent to find what it’s all about. How many times I come here? I don’t count how many times any board member comes here, which I don’t care, they come here as often as they want … so to be questioning me how many times I come here….”
“My only problem is, why are you doing it?” said Mr. Hobson.
“Well, he’s interested in trying to find out, he wants to learn,” said Mr. Furtado.
“I’m good,” said Mr. Hobson over Mr. Furtado’s last few words. “Before you sign these bills you got a right to look at ‘em.”
Meanwhile, speaking indirectly and away from the microphone, Mr. Coelho was heard saying, “I really – I can’t – I cant – I cant believe this, you got to be kidding.”
“I’m just thinking that he’s wasting her time and your time,” said Mr. Hobson. “He’s got a right to his opinion, I got a right to my opinion.”
Moving on, the board discussed the West Island Town Beach and how staff would be short until the season closes on 9/5, with only one gate attendant and one lifeguard. Mr. Furtado said he was optimistic, though, that the season would end okay with the limited staff.
Mr. Furtado then announced that Fairhaven would for the first time owe money to Mattapoisett for water that Fairhaven needed after the Tinkham Lane well broke down.
He explained that historically Fairhaven supplements its water supply during the busy summer months with Mattapoisett water, while every winter Mattapoisett supplements its drinking water from Fairhaven with the whole transaction resulting in an equal exchange — a “wash,” Mr. Furtado called it.
But for the first time, due to the well shutdown, the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the needed part to fix the pump on backorder, Fairhaven used more water from Mattapoisett than Mattapoisett used from Fairhaven. Without that balanced exchange, said Mr. Furtado, Mattapoisett expects payment for the extra water.
“We were using their water all year long and it finally came to a head,” said Mr. Furtado, adding that the Mattapoisett River Valley Water Supply District has had a bylaw built-in for 30 years to address this very situation which was not needed before.
Mr. Hobson was not pleased.
“If we gotta pay ‘em in the summer, they gotta pay us in the winter,” said Mr. Hobson clicking his pen wildly.
Mr. Furtado tried to explain, “In the past—”
“I don’t care about the past,” said Mr. Hobson. “They’re changing the rules.”
“No,” said Mr. Furtado, they’re not—”
“But they didn’t charge us,” Mr. Hobson interrupted.
Mr. Furtado tried to explain but Mr. Hobson kept interrupting him.
“But now they’re charging us, so we should charge them in the winter,” said Mr. Hobson.
“But you don’t understand,” said Mr. Furtado. “They’re charging us because in the past … when they gave us water in the summer, we gave then water in the winter.” This year, Mattapoisett was giving Fairhaven water all year round, he said.
Mr. Wotton repeated the “it’s usually a wash” figure of speech. Mr. Hobson was sure it was not fair.
“If you’re gonna have a contract with them then you gotta put it in writing and it can’t be ‘Oh, we forgive you this year and you forgive us next year.’ They’re changing the rules,” he said, punctuating it with a laugh.
“No,” said Mr. Furtado. “We couldn’t keep up with the demand.”
“I understand that,” said Mr. Hobson, “but they never charged us before so they changed the rules.”
“No, the rules were always there,” said Mr. Furtado.
“But they never enforced them,” said Mr. Hobson.
“But like I said,” Mr. Furtado kept on. “It was always a wash, we gave all—”
“Vinnie! Vinnie, I get it,” said Mr. Hobson, “but it’s not right.”
“But it’s actually right,” said Mr. Furtado.
Mr. Hobson asked how much Mattapoisett thinks Fairhaven owes them, which Mr. Furtado said was about $100,000.
“A hundred-thousand dollars?” said Mr. Hobson. “It’s cheaper to buy it from New Bedford!” and added he was against paying it.
“We have to,” said Mr. Furtado.
“What do you mean we have to?” said Mr. Hobson. “Who says we have to? Get town counsel to negotiate it, he’s good at negotiating.”
He called the bill a “$100,000 con.”
“Just tell them the board refuses to pay it,” said Mr. Hobson, “I don’t like that, I tell ya. I don’t like that,” adding that he would fight it at Town Meeting.
The board did not vote on FY 2021 water and sewer rates, and will discuss it at the 9/8 meeting. Although the board already approved a 10% hike in the water rate, Mr. Furtado said the board could consider reducing it to 5%, because the town has seen a significant increase in water revenue for FY 2020.
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