Milton selectmen said they would postpone a vote on how to handle an unexpected $46,000 water bill for Milton High School, of which school officials have asked to pay half.
At a meeting Thursday night, School Committee Chairwoman Lynda-Lee Sheridan and member Michael Zullas said they were surprised to find that they had been charged $46,000 in additional water costs for bills dating from May 2011 through June 2013.
Despite having received and paid other water bills, the officials said the bill was marked as a “make-up consumption” bill to pay for water that the department had used but had not yet been charged.
“We’ve been good customers, paid our bills every quarter - exactly what’s been asked of us. We didn’t know about this,” Sheridan said.
Joseph Lynch, director of Public Works, said the problem had to do with a faulty water meter. As a result, water wasn’t accurately tracked.
Problems came up when the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) bill was out of sync with what had been paid by departments, and issues traced to the high school.
Lynch said his department knew of a defective reading in May 2011 and brought it to the attention of school officials, but nothing was done.
Though Lynch said the Department of Public Works has the ability to order a meter replacement and have the School Department pay for it, the maintenance responsibility lies in the hands of the owner, in this case the School Department.
Lynch pointed out that the school should have noticed their lower-than-usual water bill and performed a maintenance check on the system. Sheridan said water isn’t something the School Committee tracks.
“Maybe shame on us, but it’s just not what we looked at,” Sheridan said, noting the committee tracks mainly electricity and gas costs. “We looked at the bills we could track and find cost savings.”
Selectman Tom Hurley said it was strange for the committee not to look at water costs for potential savings.
A new meter was installed in June, alleviating the problem in the future. In the meantime, School Committee officials have asked to only pay part of the bill, said they have not budgeted for the unexpected amount.
“We’re here in the spirit of compromise to see if we can pay..and come to some agreement. Maybe a reduced rate,” Sheridan said. “…We’re trying to be respectful that money is owed but at the same time for us to pay $46,000…and it has to be paid this year…[is difficult].”
The town has already paid the 2011-2012 water bill out of the Water Department, but has not yet dealt with the bill for 2012-2013. Sheridan suggested the school be on the hook only for that.
Selectmen said they would take the issue under advisement, and would be going to several departments to see if people knew there was a problem and when.
“We have fault or blame on multiple sides,” said Selectman Katie Conlon.
In the meantime, selectmen asked the DPW to put in place a notifying mechanism for uncharacteristically low water rates to alleviate future problems.
“Word of mouth didn’t work,” Lynch admitted.