On Friday, February 17, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and conservation advocates met in Hartford to advocate for the proposed legislation, HB-5888, that would increase oversight and transparency within the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC). The MDC is a quasi-government agency that provides drinking water and sewage treatment services to more than 400,000 customers across portions of Hartford, Middlesex. and Tolland counties.
If passed, this bill would establish a task force to study MDC organization and operations, mandate annual compliance audits by Auditors of Public Accounts, mandate that the MDC adopt and enforce a model code of ethics, and allow MDC commissioners from non-member municipalities to vote on water rates.
The MDC asserts that these measures are both unreasonable and unnecessary., while supporters of the bill advocate that it would restore public confidence in the MDC during a time when lawmakers argue that public trust in the utility company is waning.
Tom Delnicki introduced the bill and ahead of the public hearing on the bill, he spoke to reporters saying, “We are not here to sink the MDC…We’re here to try and make it better.” Delnicki further emphasized that there needs to be a second set of eyes on MDC finances and operations, modern-day revisions to the MDC’s 1929 charter, tougher standards of ethics, and active representation for non-member municipalities.
Delnicki continued that four of the commissioners that sit on the MDC board represent non-member districts and do not have a right to vote. These commissioners represent towns that get water from the MDC, namely South Windsor, Glastonbury, East Granby, and Farmington. They should be afforded the right to vote on the water rates that their customers pay. He further explained that HB No. 5888 grants the right to each of these commissioners to vote on one thing only – the rates.
Sen. Derek Slap, Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, Rep. Mike Demicco, leaders of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, and the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut supported Delnicki’s bill. Lawmakers illuminated concerns regarding the legal bills of an MDC chairman, a discounted deal with Niagara Bottling Company, and flooding in Hartford as examples of situations that have diminished public confidence in the MDC.
Slap also alluded to the notion that the MDC currently lacks the benefit of the doubt. He also stated that fundamentally, the MDC exists to serve its customers and the towns “…not the other way around.” His constituents have expressed their love for the water, their faith, and their confidence in the water, but they do not have the same faith and confidence in the governance of the MDC. Slap expressed his belief that constituents should be able to have the same faith and confidence in the governance of the MDC as they do for the water that the MDC provides…”…There should not be a difference between the two.”
In written testimony, Counsel for the MDC District, Christopher Stone, contends that the MDC opposes H.B. 5888 because they consider its provisions unreasonable, unnecessary, and potentially harmful. Stone added that the MDC’s ethics program is “comprehensive” and its Code of Ethics contains approximately 95 percent of the provisions contained in the Model Code. No municipality or district has adopted 100 percent of the Model Code as is proffered by HB 5888. Additional information may be viewed on the Hartford Courant’s website.
Source: Alison Cross, Hartford Courant, February 18, 2023.