Watertown water and sewer bills will be going up more than 5 percent this year, but the City could soften the blow by using federal COVID relief funds to pay for infrastructure projects.
On Tuesday, the City Council approved the water and sewer rates for Fiscal Year 2024, which includes a 5.5 percent increase for water, and a 6 percent jump for sewer. For an average residential customer who uses 1,800 cubic feet of water a quarter the combined water and sewer bill would go up $16.88 from the current year to $306.76 ($107.56 for water, $199.20 for sewer).
City Manager George Proakis said that a study by the City’s water and sewer consultant, The Abrahams Group, found that if the City uses the ARPA funds to pay for the $1.25 million in water and sewer projects from Fiscal Year 2025 to 2028, the rate increase would drop.
The City Council has received 32 proposals for how to use the $10.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds from City departments as well as outside organizations. One proposal is to use some of the money on water and sewer improvement projects.
Public Works Superintendent Greg St. Louis said the water and sewer projects will reduce rates because they will either cut the amount of water flowing into the sewer pipes or will replace leaking water pipes throughout town.
Without ARPA funding the projected water rate increases would be: 5.5 percent in FY24, 5 percent FY25, 4 percent in FY26, 2.5 percent in FY27 and 2.5 percent in FY28. With the projects fully funded with ARPA funds, the projected water rates would be: 3 percent each year from FY24 through FY28
Sewer rate projects without ARPA funds would be: 6 percent in FY24, 5.25 percent FY25, 4.5 percent in FY26, 4 percent in FY27 and 4 percent in FY28. With ARPA funds paying for the cost of the projects projected sewer rates would be: 3 percent in FY24, 3 percent FY25, 3 percent in FY26, 2.75 percent in FY27 and 2.5 percent in FY28.
The new rates will take effect on July 1, St. Louis said, however they could be adjusted.
“If ARPA funds were allocated to fund our capital projects we would look at a set date in December or January to lower rates,” St. Louis said.
Councilor Lisa Feltner said that she found the rate increases “rather alarming.”
“I know we are not discussing whether ARPA funding would be used for that or not tonight, but I’m in favor of that going forward,” Feltner said.
Council President Mark Sideris said that he is also concerned about the increases, and said the ARPA funds could provide some relief.
“I do think that this is quite a significant increase and I know when we increase water rates we get more phone calls about that than tax bills,” Sideris said. “Because people know the value of their house goes up, but they have reduced their usage to a point, and they see no relief, and it becomes frustrating for citizens.”
See the Fiscal Year 2024 Watertown Water and Sewer Rates by clicking here.