Water Rates Cut, Sewer Rates in Hands of the Voters
Selectmen approve water rate cut; sewer debt shift will be decided by voters at April 2 election.
For months, residents have complained loud and long that the huge increases in water and sewer rates imposed last summer were onerous and would make it impossible to afford to live in Tewksbury.
Last night, Town Manager Richard Montuori and the Board of Selectmen responded.
Selectmen approved a proposal by Montuori to reduce water rates by between 6 and 8 percent, depending on usage, in Fiscal Year 2012. For an average family, using 90,000 gallons of water a year, the bill would decrease from $873.70 to $812.62 per year. The rates would take effect for usage beginning April 1.
Montuori also proposed shifting 50 percent of the debt associated with $100 million in sewer line improvements/extensions to the property tax base.
Such a shift would reduce sewer bills by anywhere from 18 to 30 percent depending upon usage, while increasing property tax bills by 5.5 percent.
For an average family, using 90,000 gallons, that would mean a savings of $234.40 per year.
For home with a value of $300,000, it would mean an increase of $227.94 on their property tax per year.
While it seems like a break-even situation, Montuori pointed out that not shifting the debt would result in significantly higher rates for sewer users.
Selectman Doug Sears pointed out that all property tax payments are deductible on a person's income tax, while sewer payments are not, making for an added savings.
While the board showed support for Montouri's proposal, it did not voter to approve it. Rather, at Montuori's urging, the board voted to place the matter on the April 2 ballot, leaving it in the hands of residents to decide if they want the debt to be shifted from the sewer enterprise fund to the property tax levy.
"About 60 percent of the town is on sewer and 40 (percent) is still not on sewer," said Montuori. "This is a decision the entire town should make because it is a big cost item."
In his Powerpoint presentation, Montuori recapped why the rates had been increased so significantly last July. He outlined the $20 million in water system improvements and the $100 million in sewer improvements that had been approved by voters at Town Meeting several years ago, as well as additional improvements approved by voters more recently.
Montuori also alluded to the fact that because town leaders had, a decade ago, opted to charge a low (though mandatory) connection fee of $3,000 and fund the project mostly through rates, the burden of payment was being felt by the 60 percent of residents that are actually connected to the sewer.
Shifting the debt would result in the debt being shared by all property owners.
"This is a function of the bill still has to be paid its a question of how you pay for it," said Johnson.
Each member of the board spoke in favor of the proposal.
"I think this is a fair proposal whether you have sewer or don't have sewer," said Selectman Scott Wilson.
The public was not given the chance to respond to the proposals at the Tuesday night meeting. However, Montuori and Board Chairman Todd Johnson have stated there will be ample opportunity for public comment and input prior to the April 2 vote.