Watertown’s water and sewer rates will be rising after the Town Council approved the new rates, but they also had questions about how the rates increased as the amount of water used dropped.
The new rates will include a 2.5 percent increase for water rates and 4.9 percent for sewer rates, for a combined increase of 4 percent. The average customer would pay an extra $13.42 per quarter, or 15 cents a day. See more details about the rates by clicking here.
The Council heard a presentation at the end of May about the proposed rates, and the rates that were adopted were identical to the recommendations from the town’s water and sewer consultant.
Since then, multiple Councilors received questions from residents about why the rates are going up even as the amount of water being used in town is decreasing. The rates are increasing while the amount of water used by Watertown customers dropped by more than 1 million gallons, or nearly 1 percent.
“We are all feeling the pinch of water rates going up,” said Councilor Angeline Kounelis.
Town Auditor Tom Tracy said that the water and sewer funds are self-contained and self-funding, and with costs increasing and less water being used, the rates have been increased.
“Either we have to raise the rates or we have to cut expenses,” Tracy said.
He noted that the costs have risen 4 percent, mostly due to increases in the MWRA’s assessment (which represent 62 percent of the sewer budget and 46 percent of the water budget). To make up the difference the revenues must be increased.
Other major portions of the budget are fixed costs, Tracy said, including the debt service in loans for water and sewer projects, and the proportion of health insurance and retirement for employees based on how much time they devote to water and sewer.
Councilor Vincent Piccirilli added that some of the expenses go to maintaining and improving Watertown’s water and sewer systems.
“Water lines are replaced, sewer lines are replaced, we rebuild man holes and replace other service drops,” Piccirilli said. “We made a decision to maintain our (water and sewer) infrastructure as we pave the roads.”
Councilor Tony Palomba asked where expenses could be cut to help give residents a break on water and sewer rates.
“We do this every year and every year we raise the rates,” Palomba said. “Maybe at some point we can look at expenses that are not fixed and maybe give taxpayers a little break.”
Also on Tuesday, the Town Council approved the use of grants and no-interest loans from the MWRA to use on water and projects in town. The Town will spend $1.05 million ($787,500 in grants and a loan of $262,500) on future sewer projects.
Also, a $500,000 interest free loan will be used to replace outdated, unlined cast iron water mains on Essex and Pine streets on the Westside, and Oak Street in the East End.