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Sewer rate hike looms; $100 increase in taxes mulled.

Byline: Matthew Bruun

LEOMINSTER - The City Council was debating whether to approve a large sewer rate increase last night designed to help pay for overdue repairs to the wastewater system.

Councilors were also poised to continue the city's trend of a single tax rate, which would translate into an average tax increase of just over $100 for single-family homeowners.

The council had much of its formal agenda still before it late last night.

The sewer hike, raising the base rate of $1.70 per unit to $2.30 per unit, would still keep the city below the state average for such charges, said Roger H. Brooks, business manager for the Department of Public Works.

Neighboring Fitchburg, for example, charges $3.95 per unit for wastewater. Gardner's rate is also close to $4, Mr. Brooks said.

The average family of four produces about 90 units of wastewater, Mr. Brooks said. At $1.70 per unit, that charge would be $153 per year. At $2.60 per unit, the bill for that average family of four would rise to $234.

Councilors appreciated the need for maintenance to the system, but there were specific questions about where the added revenues would be allocated.

"I fully agree the system is underfunded," Councilor David E. Rowlands said. "We just want to make sure we can tell the public where that money is going to be spent."

"I know it's difficult for the public to understand," Mr. Brooks said. "You don't see the pipes underground."

Regarding the tax rate, for years the council has supported a single rate for residential, commercial and industrial property owners. The proposed single rate this year is $12.03 per $1,000 of assessed value, which would mean a tax bill of $3,206 for the average single-family home. That bill is up from $3,104 in fiscal 2008 and $3,003 in fiscal 2007.

Chief Assessor Walter R. Poirier said overall residential values have dropped for the first time in his tenure, which he said was a product of the declining housing market. Commercial growth soared, however, with $40 million in total value added in the last year thanks to projects such as the Wal-Mart and Lowe's stores off Route 117 near the Lancaster line.

The city is poised to collect an additional $454,694 in taxes thanks to new commercial growth, Mr. Poirier said. And while residential values are down, the city will still see about $285,000 in new growth from additions and renovations to existing homes, he explained.

North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce President David L. McKeehan said the commercial growth was a byproduct of the city's wisdom in adopting the single tax rate, which is considered friendlier to business.

"I'm here to congratulate you and urge you to continue your good work," Mr. McKeehan said.

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 25, 2008
Words:474
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