Watertown residents will be seeing their water rates rise, and sewer rates go up even more sharply, a consultant told the Town Council on Tuesday.
The combined rate for water and sewer in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget would rise $13.42 per quarter for the average customer, a difference of 15 cents a day, said consultant Dave Fox of Raftelis. That is based on a 2.5 percent increase for water rates and 4.9 percent for sewer rates. The total increase would be 4 percent.
The rate increase is the most Watertown customers have seen for a number of years. In Fiscal Year 2019 (the current rate year) the combined increase was 2.5 percent, and two years ago there was no rate increase.
The rates will rise despite a decrease in the amount of water being used in town.
“Consumption is down significantly over the year, which is happening statewide and nationwide,” Fox said. “That is a good thing for conservation, unfortunately as consumption goes down, the rate revenue does, too.”
Watertown runs the water and sewer budgets as self-contained enterprise funds separate from the town’s general budget. That means the expenses must be covered by revenues collected for that purpose.
The projected expenses for the water budget is $7.895 million, but the amount raised by the current water rates would leave a deficit of $170,877, Fox said. Likewise, a shortfall of $473,885 is anticipated with the current sewer rates with the projected expense budget of $10.945 million.
Councilor Tony Palomba asked if there was any way to cut the expenses as a way to control rate increases. Town Auditor Tom Tracy said most of the expenses are fixed costs, such as debt services on loans, personnel and the biggest one is MWRA assessment charges. Those make up 46 percent of the water budget and 59 percent of the sewer budget.
Fox said residents could reduce their water bills by taking steps to cut water use.
“Higher rates does not necessarily mean higher bills if you are conserving,” Fox said.
He noted that the water coming out of the hose to water plants and gardens is the same water people drink. The Department of Public Works sells rain barrels at a discount to residents so they can collect water to use on their gardens. Other ways to cut use is to make sure to only do the laundry or dishwasher when they have full loads.
Fox added that many New Englanders are not as conditioned to worry about water consumption because the area has enough drinking water.
“We are not in the situation of the southwest or California where they are running out of water,” Fox said.
People in some places, such as Europe, take more extreme measures, Fox said, such as turning off the shower while they lather up and then turn it on to rinse off.
The rates will be approved when the Town Council adopts the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. The public hearing for the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, June 4 at 6 p.m. in Town Hall.
The water and sewer enterprise funds expenses include:
Other Enterprise Expense $390,100
Other Enterprise Expense $481,000