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Town Manager Accused Of Using ‘Scare Tactics’ Over Stormwater Fees

Apr 24, 2019 12:54AM ● By Lisa Redmond

Dracut Town Manager Jim Duggan

DRACUT – Selectman Chairman Jesse Forcier accused the town manager of “playing politics’’ and using “scare tactics’’ after department heads and school staff jammed into last night’s selectmen’s meeting to oppose budget cuts to fund the town’s $1.5 million stormwater program.

Forcier accused Town Manager James Duggan of playing politics by notifying the school superintendent and department heads of possible budget cuts before Duggan presented the selectmen with possible funding options.

“The perception is that it is a scare tactic, (otherwise) why else tell the superintendent,’’ Forcier told Duggan.

But Duggan countered that he, “In no way shape or form was playing politics…It was a matter of communication.’’

Duggan said he has been in constant contact with department heads and the superintendent regarding the proposed FY20 budget, which will be presented to Town Meeting on June 3. In preparing different scenarios to cover the significant cost of the stormwater program, Duggan said the department heads were informed of possible budget cuts so they could prepare a list of the impacts.

Dracut is mandated meet federal requirements for a five-year MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems) permit, which went into effect July 1, 2018. Every community in the state is required to establish a program to prevent stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces, such as driveways, walkways and roof to pollute waterways.

Stormwater is rain, snow melt and anything else that flows into the storm drains and then dumped into waterways and wetlands. The stormwater contains contaminants from grease to feces.

The biggest expenses for the program involve the investment in capital equipment, such street sweepers and vacuum truck and staff; additional stormwater sampling and testing; a robust catch basin cleaning program; additional street sweeping; stringent monitoring for illegal discharging; and disposal of contaminated materials.

The town’s consultant estimated the cost to implement a stormwater system in Dracut will start at $750,000 in FY20, then rise to $1.25 million in FY21 and $1.5 million in FY 22

The consultant recommended the town implement a fee based on each property’s total square footage of the impervious surfaces, such as roof tops, driveways, sidewalks and pools.

The suggested rate is $1.57 per 100-square feet in FY20, $2.47 in FY21 and $3.12 in FY22. The average single-family home with nearly 4,000-square feet of impervious area would pay an annual fee of $62 in FY20, $97 in FY21 and $123 in FY22.

But since the idea of a fee was raised, selectmen have heard from resident who oppose a fee.

Selectman Alison Hughes told the other board members that with Town Meeting coming up, Duggan has to start developing a range of options, including budget cuts and the impact on departments.

“He’s not creating hysteria,’’ Hughes said.

Selectman Tami Dristiliaris disagreed. Department heads and school personnel jammed into the meeting and voiced their concerns about budget cuts, yet the board has no information about options and didn’t plan on voting on a stormwater fee.

“This was mass hysteria,’’ Dristiliaris said. “It was totally unnecessary and embarrassing.’’

On or about May 14, Duggan will tentatively present to the board a number of scenarios from imposing a stormwater fee to taking no action and facing federals fines of $500 to $25,000 per day.

In his years as Dracut’s town manager, Duggan said “This problem is the worst thing I’ve had to do.’’ Yet, he said, “I’m trying to get as creative as possible.’’

Hughes told the board she had a discussion with U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA) about federal help in funding this federal mandate. The bottom line is “nothing is going to change.’’

Duggan added, “Trahan does not have a panacea.’

“I’d like to hear it from her,’’ Dristiliaris said, adding she’d like Trahan invited to a selectmen’s meeting.

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