Sunday, April 29

Clear Choice For Selectman

My name is Kevin Zurrin. I am a long time seasonal resident and a new full time resident of Egremont. While I am a newly appointed member of the finance committee I speak now as a common citizen. I have asked the Selectboard candidates a series of questions. These questions are what I see as most important to the town. These questions speak to the way the next selectman will act in regard to the finances and taxation of the town. I have asked both candidates the same questions. However, because Laura Allen is not a town employee she did not answer question 2 about conflict of interest. In the interest of fairness I have posted the questions and answers without adding to or taking away from that which was written by each candidate. These are the candidates own words, unaltered. You the reader can judge which candidate would make the better selectman based on how each candidate answered the questions.

My email was as follows:

On Thu, Apr 26, 2012 at 7:48 AM, <> wrote:

I am looking at the options for the upcoming election. As a new resident I am at a disadvantage as I am not familiar with all of the issues. In order to make it easy I am asking you and Mary questions that are foremost in my mind. If you would just give a brief answer to my questions I would appreciate it. The most important issue to me is the water company. I would ask what you see as the major problems with the water department and what you would recommend the town do about these issues as a board of select member.

The Candidates Preamble

Laura Allen had no preamble except to say “Hi Kevin” instead she went right into answering the questions.

Mary Brazie began with this:Firstly the “major problem” with the Water Department is the perception that it is not a town department and the taxpayers would not and should not pay for it. Massachusetts Statute clearly says otherwise. And the other “major problem” is that we have a very small user base and at this time we do not have ability to enlarge that base.

That is not to say that there shouldn’t be an effort to control costs if and when able to and to look out for the best interests of the users and the taxpayers. I have always supported the taxpayers paying for the debt on the plant as it is an asset to the whole town even if, at this time, it only services a small portion of the Town, as does our school, which many residents don’t use and never have.

Now to the questions:

1. Obviously the water company is leaking like a sieve, both literally and figuratively. What do you believe is the best way to solve the problems associated with the WC?

Laura: I think you know my position on the water dep't. It's been mismanaged and its costs are out of control. The first step is to get commissioners who will be serious about dealing with its problems and suggest serious solutions. On the revenue side, the whole rate structure should be looked at to see if its fair and effective. Nothing should be off the table.

Mary: Department employees are very vigilant in looking for leaks and repairing them as quickly as possible. Misinformation to the taxpayers is a real problem but I have seen some improvement in over the past few years. The Board of Selectmen’s move to reduce the term and interest on the current debt is a step in the right direction of trying to control costs. Another area we can look at to control costs will come when Jack Muskrat retires or semi-retires next year. At that time the Town, will the help of the DEP, can look at its administrative needs and possibly cut wages and benefits. Chuck Ogden’s suggestion to have two part-time employees instead of a full-time employee was a good one.

2. In regard to conflicts of interest. The accusation is that as a member of the BOS and office administrator you seem to have a plethora of conflicts that may hinder your ability to fulfill the responsibility as selectman. Please explain your position in regard to this matter.

Laura: Laura did not respond because she had no conflict of interest.

Mary: Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 268A, Section 20d allows full-time paid Town employees to hold paid elected positions in Towns with populations less than 5000. I am required to file a disclosure, approved by the other members of the Selectboard, with the Town Clerk’s office. The only conflicts that I will have are that I cannot participate in any activity regarding my full-time job with the Town and the benefits that go along with that. In the past when I served 2 three-year terms on the Board this was not an issue and there were no conflicts, I simply recused myself from all of those discussions and decisions involving my position. I am unable to sign the payroll warrant and as it requires only two signatures that was never a problem and should not be during this term. As a back up in case there is an instance that I am conflict and the other members cannot agree the Town Clerk is called in to break a tie. We never had to do this.

3. In regard to the upcoming special election which will deal with a bond issue for repairing the water system, what will your recommendation be and how will you support your argument?

Laura: As of now I see no justification for a massive replacement project, whether or not funded by a bond issue. All we know so far (and we don't know nearly enough - see point 1 above) is that leaks exist and are being dealt with one by one. I don't see why that shouldn't continue - maybe we'll find a leak or two that can be fixed and cure the problem, at least as much as it should be cured. To talk about replacing a huge portion of the system seems to be using a sledgehammer to kill what may be one or two flies.

Mary: There may be a Special Town Meeting but not a Special Election, during which there may be a proposal to issue a bond to replace the remaining water lines. It makes sense that the Town repair all the lines to deliver the best service to our residents that we can. It also makes sense that we need all new lines if we are going to be able to extend serving elsewhere, or take on new customers, in the future. It may save some money and employee time that is taken up in the search for and repair of leaks, but not nearly enough to offset the costs of the repairs. I would put it before the taxpayers with the clear understanding this would be paid for by all taxpayers, not just the users, and let them vote. Before any final decisions can be made to move forward this more detailed cost estimates need to be received.

4. If this bond is passed, how much will it cost the town and how much will it save in how much time?

Laura: That's a good question. I suspect the answers are not nearly enough savings and not much time.

Mary: Based on verbal estimates, my conclusion is that we would be looking at similar costs to the refinancing of the current warrant loans with the Police Facility with a taxpayer effect of about $147 in the first year based on today’s values and rate. Obvious savings would be the amount raised each year for water line repairs, but remember we have an aging facility to maintain. There would be time savings by personnel in detecting leaks. And it does not guarantee no more leaks as the lines from the road to the home are the homeowners’ responsibility - a lot of leaks have been found in these lines recently.

5. In regard to the town services, what services would you consider unnecessary and therefore move to eliminate. Also, what services do you feel the town is lacking and what would you do to add these services.

Laura: With over 150 governmental positions in town, I think we have plenty of government. I don't think there is a demonstrated need for a sustainability coordinator. I think the health department budget is too high and that its services can be provided more efficiently and less expensively. Our police budget is very high, and we should look at whether we really need 24 hour coverage. In general, I think we shouldn't be afraid to look at all our programs and departments to see what we could do less expensively.

Mary: There are no unnecessary Town services being offered in Egremont, and Egremont has never been a wasteful community. I see no services that can be, or should be, eliminated. Having worked here for 30 years I know that not only have the Selectmen been cognizant of the true needs of Egremont and its people and have been careful to keep the costs affordable, but so have the Finance Committees. The real lack of a service at this time is high speed internet to all, and this technically isn’t a Town funded service. It behooves us all to do what we can to help bring this service to our residents as it has become a life staple as such, and it may open the door for more home based business people moving to our area. The need for cell service, which we now have in most of Egremont, and the need for high speed internet are the two items we get asked about most at Town Hall. Egremont has already proven its support to bring these services and the Selectboard must now keep on top of it to bring them to town in the most cost effective way. I will support all efforts to bring these services to Egremonters.

The candidates closed with this:

Laura: Laura ended her response exactly as she started, abrupt and straight to the point “Laura”

Mary:My goals for Egremont are to continue the teamwork that we have seen over the last year, with thoughtful decisions being made that are in the best interest of all of Egremont. While doing this we must continue to keep our services top notch without letting our tax bills get out of control. Kevin please do not hesitate to call me at home, 528-****, if you have any further questions or need any further clarification. I need your vote and hope this helps me to obtain it. Thank you.

The above article is based on the actual email correspondence between me and the two candidates. I did not alter the response in any other way than to place the questions and responses in the order that they appear. All the responses are cut and pasted as received and can be authenticated. I waited until the end to add my own comments and opinions as to not influence the tone of the article. People can read the facts and form their own opinion.

I would like to thank both Mary and Laura for answering my questions with such candor. Both should be applauded for not trying to skirt any of the issues. The answers were clear and concise. It is refreshing to find candidates who will tell people where they stand on any given issue.

When I first sent out these questions I felt that there was little difference between the candidates. Boy was I wrong. Now I can see the difference clearly. Based on the candidate’s answers I have to swing my vote over to Laura, the more conservative candidate. I’m sorry to say Mary, but your responses have not helped you to obtain my vote. When you said, and I quote, “I have always supported the taxpayers paying for the debt on the plant” it surprised me. Don’t you remember that when the town voted for the bond issue in the mid 90’s they were told that the taxpayers would not have to pay one thin dime for the water company? This is why we have the perception that the taxpayers should not have to pay for the water department.

Another concern I have with your platform is that you feel the town should not only pay for a water company that was presented as “no cost to the taxpayer”, but we should double down and pay another 1.5 million to fix the pipes. I’m sorry, I have to disagree. As you said, the Department employees are very vigilant in looking for leaks and repairing them as quickly as possible. Even if the town does spend 1.5 million dollars on the pipes this vigilance will continue. As long as we have a water company we will be looking for and fixing the leaks. When you add up the cost of leak detection, fixing the pipes, and treating the water that is lost it would take over 40 years to start saving any of the 1.5 million dollars spent. By then we will need all new pipes again. This figure is based on the fact that we spend between 10 and 30 thousand a year on repairs and maintenance of the water system.

I could go into more detail about other issues but in the interest o brevity I will stop here. These issues and more will be discussed ad nauseam at the special meeting in the summer. Suffice it to say, the town of Egremont has a choice to make and using the words of the candidates will help the people make an informed choice. Good luck and game on.



  1. Mary may have lived in Egremont for 30 years but she's absolutely nuts when she says the citizens agreed to subsidize the EWC users.

    This was the deal that was struck: the citizens, to assist the users who would have been left with no water if the private company failed, allowed the Town to purchase the EWC on the understanding that the users would pay fully for the EWC's costs.

  2. I'm glad you pointed this out. Many people have forgotten the original agreement, which you obviously have not. To change the terms and conditions of an agreement without the consent of all parties is not only a “bait and switch”, it is unconscionable.