Water & Sewer Rates Rising, City Could Use ARPA Funds to Lessen the Impact

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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.

11 thoughts on “Water & Sewer Rates Rising, City Could Use ARPA Funds to Lessen the Impact

  1. Everyone is jumping on the ban wagon raising their prices. It is not going to end until a limited set increase across the board is set. First it was food, then the bank interest rate, now water and sewer. How much higher can our expenses go? As it is now I can not leave my house for fear that I have to spend more money for everything I use or touch.

  2. I, for one, would like to see the ARPA funds applied to fix the infrastructure problems now. This is something that would benefit everyone in Watertown as everyone pays the water bills one way or another, even the renters.

    Infrastructure costs go up all the time due to many factors and if we wait and do the repairs/upgrades incrementally, we will end up paying more going forward in the long run. Let’s get it done now to fix the leaks, save money and avoid any emergency situations that could arise with our old pipes.

    Many of us had much bigger water bills last year as we were trying to maintain our shrubs and trees during the hot and dry summer we had. We all want more trees and greenery in our city and that can only happen if we can afford to water them on our properties and on our streets.

  3. ARPA funding should be used for this, it does benefit all, homeowners & renters alike. Call or write to your Councilors now, we’ve been paying dearly for the MWRA sewer tax, this will probably be one of the first times we get some relief in a long time! Win-Win

  4. Watertown renters in multi-unit buildings routinely pay all utilities, including water and sewer and are experiencing rent increases of as much as 6.5 percent or more on leases that expire in September. Landlords don’t even consider Watertown’s water and sewer rate increases when they calculate rent increases, so let’s say a $228 dollar rent increase is on top of an existing, let’s say average $80-a-month water/sewer bill (for a conservative water user). That’s before the city’s July 1 increase kicks in. Most renters get their monthly water/sewer bill and gasp, but don’t realize rates are set by the city. They try to negotiate rent increases down. When landlords won’t budge, renters either suck it up or try to find another apartment in the tight rental market?

  5. As a retiree on a limited income, I am frightened by the potential water and sewer cost increases. As it is, I am paying a much higher rate than I had in any other state I’ve lived. I have always strive to conserve on water use, but there really is nothing more I can do on my part to ease the financial burden. I’m distressed and frightened. Please use the ARPA funds to lessen the blow on residents. Thank you.

  6. Wait! We need serious consideration of all the $20+ million ARPA projects that have been submitted not just a precipitous rush to relieve water and sewer rate increases . We should keep in mind that ARPA funds were intended as “recovery” for those who were the hardest hit by COVID and the City and Council reached out to the larger community to identify what they saw as most needed.
    The need for Water and Sewer infrastructure improvements is longstanding and independent of anything that happened during the pandemic and there are in place funding mechanisms to do so including the town’s capital budget and rate payers. But that is not true of needed repairs in public housing or addressing the mental health crisis of our youth and families – just two examples of the many proposals that can be found at ARPA Project Submissions (laserfiche.com). ARPA funding is a one time opportunity to do different things that are urgently needed, more specific to the losses we experienced during the pandemic that have no alternative funding source .
    I urge councilors to take a hard and serious look at these proposals and to identify criteria for assessing funding priorities before signing on to a one-time rate payer relief, however welcome.

    • I completely agree. While the rate increases are certainly concerning, this does not seem the best or most appropriate use of the one-time ARPA money. I would much prefer to see it used to to support affordable housing, youth mental health or local small businesses. I’d like to see the City be a little more creative about how this money could be used to address the serious and lasting impacts of the pandemic.

  7. Yeah, I’m a landlord in Watertown so please don’t use generalizations about what landlords and what renters are responsible for, ok?

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