The Board of Selectmen unanimously agreed Tuesday night to table the vote on Eastleigh Farm for a month, making it clear that meetings about the ongoing water bill issue must be held in the next four weeks.
Should the board decide to charge farm owner Doug Stephan for water usage, the charges would be effective starting July 1, said Selectman Dennis Giombetti.
Stephan’s attorney, Bill Mayer, opened the discussion asking for a delay on voting whether Stephan will have to pay for water on his farm. The question remains whether Eastleigh should be treated as a private business or a public preservation site.
The board is divided on the matter. Selectman Ginger Esty said, “Are we as a community going to go back on process because we got what we wanted?"
The Board has made moves in the past to help preserve the farm. The state had awarded the board with a $500,000 grant for the farm but the board voted to reject the grant because it came with too many strings attached.
Stephan’s attorney said the board had made provisions for the grant of easement on the farm and the provisions included that selectmen and Stephan must negotiate a deal for the water.
Town manager Bob Halpin said there are three issues: 1) everyone would like Eastleigh Farm to remain a community asset, 2) it must be defined what financial support means for the Framingham taxpayer, and 3) the future of seven lots being built across the street from the farm is in question.
In 2008, the town discovered the Eastleigh was not a metered farm, which is when a meter measures how much water the farm uses. The farm has been asked to pay for water at the prevailing rates. Halpin clarified that “prevailing” is defined as the current rates at which water is charged at any given time – the same rate at which the rest of the town is charged for their water.
Stephan has said that if he has to pay for the farm’s water, he will not be able to sustain Eastleigh. In this event, the farm will most likely be shut down and taken over by builders to build new residential developments. The farm’s water bill comes out to an estimated $12,000 per year. Stephen has a $5 million mortgage on the farm.
The board has no contractual agreement stating it may not collect money from the farm for water.
“Everybody has to pay their bills,” said Precinct 10 town member Bill McCarthy. He went on to say that the town is running a “business” and it is not in a position to waive bills.
Town residents stepped up to the podium at Tuesday’s meeting and shared fond memories of times spent at Eastleigh and the positive impact it has made on the Framingham community.
Dennis Paulson, chairman of the Department of Public Works, said private people profited from the farm more than the town did, yet public money is subsidizing the farm.
"This farm is like a child to me," said Stephan in his closing remarks. "I am hopeful we can have a conversation."