Letters to the Editor

Boil water notices are the canaries in the coal mine

Aug 16 2022, 7:04 AM

The attached map of Montpelier's water main breaks in recent years doesn't yet include the five new leaks just this week under School Street, and probably omits other recent breaks on Barre Street, East State Street and elsewhere.

This geographic data was requested from city officials under public records law and just received.

Montpelier's understaffed and under-funded Public Works Department will never get around to repairing sidewalks or the multitude of other public safety hazards as long as they are playing "whack-a-mole" with a crumbling water supply system. Consider also the damage to staff morale.

There is still no estimated budget nor any workplan to repair and replace this essential infrastructure, nor even any credible estimate of total costs. Is it $20M?, $50M?, $100M?, $400M?

The deterioration is clearly occurring faster than we are repairing it! Might we see Montpelier water and sewer bills increase to equal or exceed property taxes? Double?

The city's leadership under City Manager Bill Fraser, Mayors Watson, Hooper, Hollar and Cummings, and prior public works directors Tom McCardle, and whomever else, have perpetuated the collective delusion that these massive expenses could simply be indefinitely postponed.

Damn the boil water notices, bruises, scraped knees, elbows and car damage. They can claim sovereign immunity! Only until a court finds it to be gross negligence.

The not-yet-quantified, unfunded liability of deferred maintenance on water mains, sewer, sidewalks and roads might well be the most lasting and painfully expensive legacy that Mr. Fraser gifts to Montpelier's already overtaxed citizens! This insult approaches as he takes his escalating salary and benefits package, (recently secretly modified to protect his nearly $300K golden parachute even if he's convicted of a crime), which was approved by the City Council recently on the consent agenda (no public discussion allowed).

This was done as part of Fraser's new four-year contract renewal costing us about another $1M. May he be gone, and none too soon. Let’s turn his house on Town Hill Road into a shelter for the unhoused in the interest of justice.

Fraser, through his puppet Council regime, has effectively level funded (or less) the public works budget, (already prior underfunded) for a decade or two while infrastructure repairs costs have escalated and deterioration has increased.

At the same time, he has manipulated the prioritization of water and sewer plant investments while granting unreasonably low appraised values of downtown properties to select millionaires owning downtown buildings at the expense of the working poor and middle income.

It seems as if most of Montpelier's voters are on some sort of anti-anxiety medication, repeatedly voting for the status quo while watching the massive tsunami wave of expenses roll slowly toward us.

Mayor Watson's fixation on NetZero and virtue signaling expenses and obliviousness to these fundamental infrastructure issues should not be rewarded nor should she be allowed to represent Montpelier and Washington County in the state Senate.

It's little wonder that she would rather have me arrested than allow me to inform the council and viewing public on how her poor leadership has aggravated this impending disaster.

It's soon time to pay the piper.

Stephen Whitaker

Montpelier