Watertown Water & Sewer Rates Projected to Go Up 8.6% for Fiscal Year 2021

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Watertown residents will likely see a significant jump in their water and sewer bills. The Town Council saw a presentation asking for a 7 percent increase in the water rate and a 9.5 percent increase in sewer rates at Tuesday’s Council Meeting.

The increases were recommended by the Town’s water/sewer consultants from Weston & Sampson and Abrahams Group, which studied the budgeting and operations of Watertown’s water and sewer divisions. Without the increase, the water and sewer funds could face deficits, said Matthew Abrahams of the Abrahams Group. The increases would also help build a 15 percent retained earning in five years time. See the consultant’s recommendations by clicking here (the recommendation was Option 1).

If someone uses 2,500 cubic feet of water, the cost would go up by $29.91 a quarter, with the quarterly bills for water being $132.29 and $245.01 for sewer, for a total of $377.30. Abrahams added that the average residential user in Watertown uses less than 2,000 cubic feet of water a year.

The consultants were hired to help the Town do longer term planning for the water and sewer budgets, looking five years into the future similar to the Town’s Capital Improvement Plan.

In future years, the proposed increases would be higher for water (9.5 percent each year from Fiscal Year 2022 to 2025) but a bit less for sewer (6 percent each year from Fiscal Year 2022 to 2025).

Councilor Tony Palomba said the proposed increases look large when combined.

“Over the next four years, we are talking a potential increase from now of close to 36 or 38 percent. … I think that is going to be a bit of a hard sell to residents,” Palomba said.

At the meeting where the Town Council passed the FY2021 Town Budget, Councilor Anthony Donato said that he always has a hard time getting his head around the water and sewer budgets. The water and sewer budgets are self funded. And with people being asked to conserve water while the cost of running the department goes up — or even if it stays level — the rates need to rise if residents are using less water (i.e. the same amount of money, or more, needs to be raised from fewer cubic feet of water).

About half the increase is due to increases of assessments charged to the Town by the MWRA (Massachusetts Water Resource Authority): 3 percent for water and 4 percent for sewer. Consultants did not go into details about where costs are rising in other parts of the water and sewer operations.

The consultants also came up with recommendations for changes in how the Town operates the water and sewer divisions of the Department of Public Works. They include:

  • Using prior year actual budget figures rather than the current year budget when making the next year’s budget model, since budget costs might not be known until the end of the budget cycle.
  • Review and update the water and sewer budgets annually, because many of the assumptions used to make the budget could change.
  • Fill the Management Analyst position in the Department of Public Works. The person could review and parse statistical data, as well as provide support and assistance in water meter reading, quality control and billing disputes. 
  • Review the tier structure for the water and sewer rates, and make sure it is the best structure for Watertown.
  • Update meters and meter reading system, focusing on replacing commercial meters first.

“The town can realize substantial additional revenues with more accurate meters, and can benefit from meter reading technology to allow for improved customer service and more frequent readings,” Abrahams said.

Watertown should also monitor the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on water and sewer usage, Abrahams said. The water and sewer rates will be set by the Town Council at the Aug. 11 meeting. They will begin planning for setting the Fiscal Year 2022 water and sewer rates soon. Councilors voted to refer the planning for the FY2022 rates to the Budget and Fiscal Oversight subcommittee.

5 thoughts on “Watertown Water & Sewer Rates Projected to Go Up 8.6% for Fiscal Year 2021

  1. It would have been great if this article would have explained the justification for the increase in more detail or perhaps more clearly. I’m unsure if the increase is the MWRA increase plus an amount to build a reserve or if something else is included. Also, how about explaining the need for nearly double-digit increases in forthcoming years.

    I have enough to get upset about and not anymore to know if I’m upset for good reason or to understand what is really going on.

    • The short answer of why the water and sewer rate is going up is the current rate according to the consultant os the current rate won’t cover the costs increases. Along with the increased MWRA assessment is the operation cost. Why are they up, they really didn’t get into it. From following water rates for several years, I assume there is some increase in salaries.

      Also, water and sewer rates are also counterintuitive because people are asked to conserve water but water and sewer are self funded so if people are using less water the rates need to increase to cover the cost. I will also out in the link to the consultant’s study

  2. This is not a surprise if you are paying attention. Certainly not to anyone on the board. The town’s own consultant Chris Woodcock has said this increase would likely be coming up in a few years and that the town should add money to reserves for when the 7 -8% increase hit. And here we are!!

  3. Water is the essence of life; I am all for building a reserve fund, but it should be placed in escrow and not used for anything else. The rate increase should NOT be used to fund salary increases; that is a burden that must be covered by the general tax fund, because who reviews those increases?

    • Thanks for you comment Will. A bit more info on the salary increases. They are for the portion of the salary of the people working on the water and sewer in Watertown. Not for people like the Town Manager. The salary increases for water and sewer are reviewed the same way as other town employees.

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