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Sewer rates and fate of mansion to get extra scrutiny from council

Date: 12/6/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE – Two issues that went before the Holyoke City Council on Dec. 3 still await resolution.

The council voted against increasing the city’s sewer rates without first receiving answers to a long list of questions they have for United Water.

City Councilor Joseph McGiverin advocated for the increase in order to make sure sewer costs would be covered by ratepayers rather than use taxpayer’s money from the city reserves.

While fellow councilors shared McGiverin’s concerns, they were not ready to approve a 12 percent increase without more information from United Water, the private contractors who maintain the sewer system.

City Councilor James Leahy called the situation “a travesty” and said that officials from United Water needed to answer the council’s questions.

Councilor Anthony Soto warned the council, “This is a contract. If we don’t do this [correctly] we’re going to get nailed.”

Council President Kevin Jourdain explained to Reminder Publications the council has conducted two public hearings earlier this year on the proposed sewer fees and presented a “laundry list” of questions for United Water.

“We’re asking tough questions and hold their feet to the fire,” Jourdain said.

He noted that 15 percent of the sewer users in Holyoke are not paying their sewer bills. While other communities such as Springfield have a Water and Sewer Commission that can shut off a consumer’s water if the sewer bill is not paid, Holyoke does not have this option. Jourdain said that some people pay their water bill and ignore the sewer bill.

An order for public hearings on the fate of the Farr Mansion proposed by Councilor Gladys Lebron-Martinez was passed unanimously by the council. City Councilor Aaron Vega’s Redevelopment Committee would conduct the hearing, Jourdain explained, but a meeting date has not been set.

Olivia Mausel, chair of the Historical Commission, said, “We won that battle, but we may not win the war.”

The YMCA of Greater Holyoke is planning to demolish the Farr Mansion in order to build a parking lot closer to its front entrance. The Historical Commission has saved the building so far with a stay of demolition, but that reprieve will be up on Dec. 18.

Members of the neighborhood and others have opposed the demolition and developer Steven Bosco has offered to buy the building from the YMCA and renovate it for commercial use, an offer the YMCA has rejected.

Jourdain said the council’s one role in the issue would be approving the zone change the YMCA would need to build a parking lot on the house’s location.