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I-Team: MWRA Raises Salaries Along With Water And Sewer Rates

By WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve
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WBZ-TV's Joe Shortsleeve Joe Shortsleeve
Joe Shortsleeve is chief correspondent for WBZ-TV News weekdays a...
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BOSTON (CBS) – Water and sewer rates are on the rise again for Greater Boston homeowners, but that’s not the only thing going up.

The I-Team has discovered the state authority which hiked those rates is also hiking the pay of everyone of its employees.

“It’s gold,” says Milton homeowner Paul Yovino, describing the water coming out of the tap in his kitchen sink. And like gold, the price of water is going up, yet again.

“They’re saying that the average homeowner in Milton will have a $150 increase in their water bill,” Yovino says.

And not just in Milton . The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority recently announced a three percent water and sewer rate hike for all its consumers in Boston and 59 surrounding communities.

But that isn’t the only thing that has Yovino steamed.

“The MWRA has given its employees a more than $3.8 million wage and salary increase,” he says. “I do not know how they can explain that.”

The explanation is right in the MWRA’s new budget. Higher water and sewer rates will pay for raises for every MWRA employee — including 190 managers now making more than $100,000 a year.

With the new raises averaging three percent across the board, MWRA executive director Fred Laskey’s own salary has climbed over $166,000 a year.

“Are we aware that it raises some eyebrows? Yes,” says Laskey. “The margin of error in running a drinking water facility in particular is intense. And the people who run those facilities and manage that and monitor the water, are they paid? Yeah, they get paid commensurate with their duties.”

For 25 years, Joe Favaloro has headed the MWRA Advisory Board, the watchdog agency set up to protect the interests of the ratepayers. He thinks the rate hikes and the salary hikes are reasonable.

“Our goal each and every year is to make sure the MWRA gets whatever it needs, but no more than that,” says Favaloro. “The strength of the authority is (its)seasoned, well-educated, professionally and technically astute workforce. Many of them, if not all of them, are the same people who are also going through the difficulties of getting through this economy. “

Laskey says most of what’s driving up the cost of water is debt payments on the $6 billion the MWRA still owes for the cleanup of Boston Harbor, which included construction of the massive waste water treatment plant on Deer Island.

“I think we’ve been successful in controlling our costs,” Laskey says. “It’s something we work on daily.”

But the pay raise still rankles Paul Yovino, whose $477 quarterly water and sewer bill is about to go up yet again.

“It’s outrageous,” he says. “There’s no explanation that’s acceptable in this difficult economic time for any state agency to be giving themselves any raise, let alone this.”

The number of employees at the MWRA has dropped significantly in the last decade, from a high of about 1,800 down to the current 1,200.

At the same time, water and sewer rates in the MWRA district have risen, on average, almost 38 percent.

Water and sewer charges in Greater Boston are the fourth highest in the country, according to a recent survey of major cities by the MWRA Advisory Board.

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