Last week, the Chelmsford Finance Committee joined the Board of Selectmen in voting not to recommend a petitioned warrant article to Town Meeting Representatives later this month.
The unanimous disapproval came due to concerns of what the town’s legal liabilities would be, as well as how much it would cost town taxpayers.
Finance Committee member Tom Gilroy believes the best route would be to gather members of town boards, the Sewer Commission, topic experts and affected residents such as representatives of the Sewer Fairness Alliance, to form a committee that could get hard data on the issue.
“Fairness is a wonderful thing, but the world isn’t fair. Everyone knew what they were getting into. They got the grinder pumps for a dollar, they got help with the installation, they got help with the betterment and now they want maintenance for the pumps,” said Gilroy. “I have empathy for these people, but until we get a proposed bylaw that’s tight and binds the owner and the town in something that isn’t an uncapped liability, I think we need to look at it being reworded.”
In a memorandum released to the Board of Selectmen from Town Manager Paul Cohen earlier this month, since the issue arose in 1998, the Sewer Commission has granted approximately $1.3 million in betterment relief and installation assistance to homeowners with grinder pumps, estimating that grinder pump maintenance could cost the town up to $125,000 a year.
Additionally, the memorandum indicates that if the town assumes liability for maintenance and replacement costs for grinder pumps, a precedent may also be set requiring the town to also be responsible for similar types of units at condominiums and apartment complexes.
However, Sewer Fairness Alliance member and statistical analyst Vern Champeaux says this figure, which would be approximately just under $10 a year per Chelmsford taxpayer’s sewer bill, is a feasible, but worst-case scenario estimate that includes not just normal service calls, but also full pump replacement calls.
Champeaux believes residents living with grinder pumps would be willing to shoulder some of the liability in exchange for some assistance from the town’s Sewer Enterprise Fund.
In his eyes, grinder pump homeowners deserve assistance due to their unique situation there are already comparisons in the private sector where homeowners give up some responsibility for home assistance.
“The town’s concern about its liability is a non-issue since they would be invited by homeowners, just like with cable guys, telephone repairmen, meter readers and other people who come onto property that are invited,” said Champeaux.