May 4, 2017

Sen. Bye, State Senate Send MDC Consumer Bill to Governor’s Desk

A bill that creates stronger oversight of the Metropolitan District Commission and which has never received a “no” vote in the General Assembly is on its way to Governor Malloy’s desk to be signed into law.

State Senator Beth Bye (D-West Hartford) led the unanimous and bipartisan passage Wednesday in the state Senate of House Bill 6008, “AN ACT ESTABLISHING AN INDEPENDENT CONSUMER ADVOCATE FOR METROPOLITAN DISTRICT OF HARTFORD COUNTY CONSUMERS,” which was introduced by Sen. Bye and state Representatives David Baram (D-Bloomfield) and Derek Slap (D-West Hartford).

“This bill just saved Bloomfield and West Hartford—which I represent—millions of dollars in unexpected and unbudgeted costs that the MDC had wanted them to pick up. That should come as a huge relief to town leaders and local taxpayers,” Sen. Bye said. “Just as importantly, we’ll be getting a new level of oversight at the quasi-public MDC with the appointment of a consumer advocate, and we’ve taken some of the financial pressure off the MDC by allowing them to borrow money for longer periods of time and for more types of projects. My hope is that all of these components of the bill contribute toward lower costs for consumers and a more thoughtful and balanced approach to the use of Connecticut’s very limited water resources, which are a public resource, a public right.”

The bill has never been opposed by any state legislator, having received unanimous and bipartisan votes in the Planning & Development Committee, the House of Representatives, and the state Senate.

“Not one single member of the legislature voted against this bill in either chamber—and that’s because there is no longer any dispute that reforms are desperately needed at the MDC,” Rep. Slap said. “Thanks to this bill, MDC consumers will have a voice and taxpayers will get the protections they deserve. Relief will be immediate because now West Hartford won’t have to set aside nearly $2 million in reserve payments in case a member town defaults. Those savings directly benefit everyone who pays property taxes in West Hartford.”

“Our water is a precious commodity that must be protected and managed with care. Too often, MDC policies are decided by political appointees with no accountability to local member towns,” Rep. Baram said. “An independent consumer advocate adds a voice for our constituents to ensure that issues are disclosed in a timely manner so that they can be debated and reviewed. State Senate approval of this important legislation is a victory for transparency and accountability. I was honored to help negotiate this legislation.”

The bill has several important components, including:

  • Creating an independent consumer advocate on the MDC to provide the public with information about MDC policies, ordinances, agenda, motions and votes, hearings, and other substantive information dealing with water and sewer management and operations of the MDC so that the public and municipal officials are aware of matters impacting their towns and fellow residents.
  • Preventing MDC-member towns from having to cover the cost of non-payments by other towns. Instead, the bill requires the state to withhold any payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) grants to a city or town, or withhold any state payments to help reduce automobile taxes, if that city or town fails to pay its sewer use assessment to the MDC. This section of the bill is in direct response to a proposal by the MDC last fall that which would have required the eight MDC towns to cover any unpaid sewer service fees by another town. For example, the MDC had proposed that if the City of Hartford couldn’t pay its $11 million annual sewer service fee, then Bloomfield would have to contribute $1.3 million; East Hartford, $2.1 million; Newington, $1.6 million; Rocky Hill, $1 million; West Hartford, $3.9 million; Wethersfield, $1.4 million; and Windsor, $1.5 million.
  • Expanding both the uses and the timelines that the MDC can issue bonds (borrowing) for. Right now, the MDC can only get six-month loans for water projects. The new bill expands that timeframe to three years, and adds sewer projects and other working capital to the list of items they can borrow for.