SOUTH WEYMOUTH — About a half-mile from the entrance to the mixed-use development taking root at the shuttered South Weymouth Naval Air Station is a white clapboard building with an inviting entryway framed by four columns and a pair of large planters.
A prominent sign outside the handsome building at 223 Shea Memorial Drive says: “Town Hall.”
But this is no ordinary town hall.
This is where residents of SouthField, the development that eventually will include 2,855 homes, pay their property taxes and water and sewer bills. It’s where they get their dog licenses. But SouthField Town Hall provides little else in direct municipal service, leaving its 475 residents (and counting) with some unusual arrangements — and complaints.
SouthField is a “unique situation,” said Peter Mahoney, a development associate with John M. Corcoran and Co., the Braintree company that built The Commons at SouthField Highlands, the first apartment complex at SouthField. “They’re Weymouth residents at the end of the day, but they have a second layer of government between them.”
SouthField residents vote in Weymouth, and SouthField children attend Weymouth Public Schools. But SouthField homeowners pay property taxes to the South Shore Tri-Town Development Corp., a tiny agency that functions like a mini-municipal government.
Tri-Town, in turn, reimburses Weymouth for schooling its children and pays Weymouth police $53 per hour to patrol SouthField’s 1,400 acres and $421.75 for emergency calls; and $1,642.53 to the Weymouth Fire Department each time it responds to a call from SouthField.
The arrangements have led to some unhappiness all around.
Tri-Town has wrangled with Weymouth school officials over the cost of educating its children. Tri-Town suggested paying the town $6,900 for every SouthField student enrolled in the Weymouth public schools. But Weymouth wants $11,500 per pupil. The negotiation is ongoing.
Meanwhile, Tri-Town also has to contend with Abington and Rockland, since the sprawling former base straddles those towns as well.
Rockland Town Accountant Eric A. Hart says Tri-Town owes his town $651,056 because it failed to disperse its excess revenues properly, as required by legislation. The legislation and reuse plan states that Tri-Town’s excess tax revenues should be distributed annually and that Abington should get 12 percent, Rockland 42 percent, and Weymouth 46 percent. Tri-Town disputes Rockland’s assertions, and says it has no excess revenues to give away.
Kevin R. Donovan, chief executive officer for Tri-Town, said State Auditor Suzanne Bump’s office is reviewing the SouthField project and he’s waiting for its assessment on how Tri-Town’s finances are being handled.
“It’s premature to make any grand declarations,” said Donovan. “Let’s see what the state auditor’s report says.”
Christopher Thompson, a spokesman for Bump, said the auditor is looking at Tri-Town’s “management of finances and if the agency has the proper internal control of its resources.”
Thompson declined to say when the audit would be complete.
“It’s still ongoing,” he said.
The hottest controversy in the development involves what comes out of the tap: SouthField residents drink the same water as Weymouth residents, but they’re billed differently and charged higher rates.
Tri-Town is still trying to figure out a permanent source of water for SouthField, which at full-build-out would have more residents than many small Massachusetts towns and could require as much as 1.4 million gallons of potable water per day, and 522,000 gallons to irrigate its future athletic fields and the proposed 18-hole golf course known as SouthField Links & Academy.
For now, Weymouth has agreed to supply water and sewer services during the first phase of the project, which could include up to 1,000 homes and 300,000 square feet of commercial space, according to Donovan. Tri-Town buys the water at a premium. It then tacks on an additional $8.79 service fee per unit of water — 748 gallons — before selling it to SouthField residents.
SouthField residents end up paying between $21.34 and $29.87 per unit for water and sewer service — far more than what Weymouth residents pay. The annual water/sewer bill for a household using 90,000 gallons in Weymouth is $1,530, but an apartment at The Commons at SouthField Highlands using the same amount is charged more than $3,500.
Jessica Landerholm, a resident at The Commons at SouthField Highlands, a 226-unit complex, says she was not prepared for her water and sewer bills to be so high. Continued...