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Faulty water meters bring hefty bills DPW board tables VFW request for waiver of fee

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PEPPERELL — The Board of Public Works addressed two water and two sewer abatements carried over from their previous meeting, and tabled a request from the Veterans of Foreign Wars to waive a $7,500 connection fee.

Residents of Plainfield Road and Townsend Street were faced with substantial water and sewer bills this quarter, reflecting past unreported usage due to faulty exterior water meters.

The issue was brought before the board last month following the installation of new external meter readers at both homes last fall.

Judith and Charles Pentedemos, of 8 Plainfield Road, had appeared before the board in March requesting an abatement of more than $2,290 for previously unreported water and sewer usage.

At the March meeting, Public Works Director Robert Lee said town counsel had reviewed the bills and correspondence and saw no reason for the town not to deny the abatement request.

Last week, Lee offered both homeowners a flexible payment schedule featuring zero interest and the “lowest pricing tier possible” to minimize the impact of the bills.

Russell Schott of 24 Townsend Street, who is being asked to pay more than $2,670 in unreported water and sewer usage for the past several years, appeared before the board and said, “It was a total surprise to me when I got this bill.”

Schott, a self-described “conservationist,” challenged the 380,000 gallon discrepancy in his bill and raised several questions about the history of the meter issue.

Although Lee had no information on whether the meter was defective at the time of installation, he assured the board that the interior meters at both homes showed accurate calibration readings as of December.

”This whole thing is a shock to me,” said Schott, who admitted to having received two notices from the town since 2003 requesting that he contact the town to schedule installation of a new exterior meter. However, Schott said none of the seven notices produced by Lee during the meeting had specifically stated that the replacement of the meter was due to possible inaccuracies or defects.

”If it went through your meter, it’s hard for us not to charge you for it,” said Chairman George Clark. Offering his sympathy to both homeowners, Clark encouraged them to work out satisfactory payment plans with the water department.

The board voted unanimously to deny both abatement requests.

Lee noted that more than 38 other customers with unreported water usage due to possible external meter defects had received bills larger than expected, but none had filed for abatements.

The board approved two sewer abatements, not related to defective water meters, for $96.26 at 35 Village Road and for $241.55 at 17 Deerfield Road.

However, the board also remained steadfast in not setting any new precedents as they met once again with representatives of the Pepperell VFW post. The post is seeking a waiver of the $7,500 connection fee for their new state-mandated fire-protection system.

Lee recommended against granting the waiver request, reminding the board that the water department is run as an enterprise fund, where water connections and other fees have an impact on the costs passed on to ratepayers.

”I have to recommend that the board deny this request,” said Lee.

”Nobody is close to what we do in this community,” said VFW Post Commander Tony Saboliauskas, who along with post executive Michael Flaminio cited a long list of donations and community support activities provided to Pepperell over the years. “We’re reeling from this,” added Saboliauskas.

Clark said the board sympathized with the VFW.

”We do have to meet our expenses,” said Shattuck, who iterated Lee’s explanation that the water division used an enterprise-fund model.

Although the board appeared willing to deny the request, they agreed to table further discussion until this week. The board also asked the VFW to bring back a recommendation as to how they would like to structure a payment schedule for the $7,500 fee.

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