Water-Rate Discount Legislation Stalls in Council Vote

A proposal by District 6 City Councilor Giovanni Recupero to submit a home rule petition to the state legislature giving homeowners a 20 percent discount on their water and sewer bills failed to gain council approval at Monday night’s meeting.

Recupero was attempting to have the legislature pass a bill that would have given the discount to owner-occupants of condominiums, and all residential homes of four or fewer units.

Recupero laid out his reasoning for the discount at a subcommittee meeting held last week. Council President Roy Avellaneda listed a number of reasons he was opposed to Recupero’s proposal, and City Manager Thomas Ambrosino said he had no official opinion, since the move would have been revenue neutral for the city.

“The only thing this is doing is sending it forward to the state to see whether they will allow it or not; let us decide for ourselves whether we want it or not,” said Recupero. “I’m a homeowner, and I know you can say, ‘oh well, why should everybody else make up the difference.’”

But Recupero said the savings to homeowners would be a drop in the bucket compared to the over $28 million the city brings in annually from water and sewer charges.

The councilor noted that the move would be similar to the shift in the property tax rate that puts a greater burden on commercial rather than residential property owners.

“The biggest stakeholder (in Chelsea) is the person who owns a home and lives here and puts all of their money in this city, so why shouldn’t they get something in return?” Recupero asked. “All we have to do is send this to the state legislature, and I’m very doubtful that they will let this happen, because it is the first time something like this is ever being done.”

Ambrosino said he had no opinion on whether the council should move forward with the home rule legislation, since it would be revenue neutral for the city and shift the costs onto other users.

“The city is still going to collect the same amount of water and sewer revenue to run our system,” said Ambrosino. “What this would do is exactly what would happen in the tax situation where you are simply shifting the burden from owner-occupants in the city to non-owner occupants. They would pay a higher water and sewer bill than they would in the absence of this.”

Even if the home rule petition made it to the legislature, Ambrosino said the odds of it passing at the state level were likely slim.

“My sense is that when the legislature sent this to the Department of Revenue to look at, that they would not look kindly on this,” said Ambrosino. “It is not something that they would typically do, and it is so unique that these kinds of programs are difficult to get past the DOR.”

Avellaneda said he had several issues with the home rule petition, starting with Recupero’s characterization that the city could send it to the legislature, and then the council could later decide if they wanted to enact the discount.

“Let’s not mistake that,” he said. “What we send to the legislature is asking them to approve something that is vehemently supported. You are basically asking them for a rubber stamp.”

Avellaneda also said that the discount for homeowners would basically be asking someone else to subsidize their water use.

“Unlike taxes, the use of water and sewer in my opinion, is a utility, the same as gas, the same as electricity, and I can’t dictate how much a building uses or a homeowner uses,” he said. “They pay what they use, and I have no way of knowing that. You are asking this city council to subsidize a homeowner’s water bill.

“To make someone else pay for someone’s use of water and sewer when it is a utility and not a tax, I think it’s unfair.”

At Monday night’s regular council meeting, the vote was 5-5 to introduce the home rule legislation, meaning it failed to move onto the State House.

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