Thursday, February 1, 2007

A Local Issue: The MDC Is In Hot Water.....

also known as "how to spend taxpayer monies imprudently".

Watch the video which contains a short clip with yours truly.

Back in November 2006, the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), (also known as the water company), presented an $800 million referendum (total cost estimated to be $1.6 billion without inflation or $2.1 billion with 4.5% inflation) on the November ballot. It was a huge issue for the towns of West Hartford, Newington, Rocky Hill, Wethersfield, East Hartford, Windsor, Hartford, and Bloomfield. Hartford receives huge subsidies from member towns, as the outlying suburban towns pay a higher rate on their water and sewer usage because revenues to the MDC are based on an "ad valorum" tax (tied to property values) as opposed to strict water usage. Being that property values in the suburbs are higher than in Hartford, the current MDC sewerage payment system is just another wealth redistribution scheme that subsidizes Hartford. Taxes are going to be significantly higher on water and sewer usage.

This "Clean Water Project" will be Connecticut's version of "The Big Dig", spanning over 15 years and costing billions of dollars. No one is disputing that the capital improvement project should be done, but many believed that it shouldn't be done until the current payment system and the enormous cost of the project was addressed. What was really needed, and still is today, is a change of the MDC charter to be done through the CT legislature.

The voters were persuaded to vote "YES" by a series of MDC presentations, mostly done through a Public Relations firm. The referendum passed, and shortly after that the MDC increased the salary limit for its highest-paid officials by 41 percent, causing an outcry from many.

The executives - chief operating officer Scott Jellison, chief administrative officer Robert Moore and chief program management officer Robert Weimer - had been earning a base salary of $159,000 a year, the maximum allowed for the executives under the agency's rules. So the MDC's board of commissioners went ahead and approved a minimum of $189,000, 19 percent more than the executives earn now, and a maximum of $225,000, an increase of 41 percent. Those three men report to Chuck Sheehan, the agency's chief executive officer, who was given a pay raise of 8 percent, bringing his salary from $185,400 to $200,000.

They claimed that the increases were critical to make sure that the MDC has top-notch people on board as the 15-year project to fix the area's sewers goes forward. Jeff Wright, an MDC commissioner from Newington who voted against the pay raises, said "Here we are, having just voted all this big money and people are going to see big increases in the cost of their bill, and here we are giving gigantic pay raises to these executives?" Joe Kronen, a commissioner from East Hartford who voted against the raises, said he could not in good conscience explain the raises to voters. "How do you go back to the voter and tell them this?" he said. "I can at least hold my head high in East Hartford and say I voted against it. ... People at the MDC do very well, money-wise and in terms of retirement benefits."

And now to add insult to injury - the MDC is throwing a huge blow out dinner party at the Greater Hartford Jaycees Community Boathouse to thank those that helped get the referendum passed. The February 8th party is being paid from ratepayer revenue! Susan Kniep of the Federation of Connecticut Taxpayer Organizations has taken this matter to the Attorney General and has initiated an FOI request for the names of those invited to the party, which included elected officials. There are serious charges at hand here for misuse of taxpayer money, especially if it is as a "payback" to key elected people.

I don't believe that our taxes on water and sewer use should be used to pay for parties or to line the pockets of MDC executives. It should be used to pay for fixing the sewer pipes which are in dire need of repair.