Massachusetts Water Resources Authority
may raise rates and layoff workers

Thursday, December 26, 2002 -- BOSTON (AP) - Directors of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, preparing to meet in emergency session to deal with a $48 million deficit, will consider further layoffs and another rate hike, the agency's executive director said.

"It doesn't feel a lot like Christmas," MWRA chief Fred Laskey said Wednesday.

Laskey said the board is considering a rate increase of 3.9 percent that would generate about $15 million. That would mean an extra $20 on an $800 average bill.

The authority also could layoff an additional 100 workers.

Between March 2001 and October 2002, the MWRA cut its work force by 11 percent, and water rates went up 2.9 percent last summer.

Another option includes acceleration of spending from the $135 million reserve fund. However the reserve fund cannot be drawn down too quickly without jeopardizing the MWRA's high bond rating.

"The depths of this fiscal crisis are shown by the face we are even getting to this account," Laskey said.

Other cost-saving options include consolidating the headquarters operation at the Charlestown Navy Yard and subleasing one of two buildings costing $1.1 million to rent and selling an MWRA property at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy for at least $5.6 million

The leader of the MWRA legislative caucus said the group is trying to elevate water rates as a Statehouse priority, while continuing to search for possible supplemental funds.

"Anything and everything has to be on the table at this point," said Rep. Robert A. DeLeo, D-Winthrop.