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Panel endorses rate hikes for water, sewer.

Byline: Nick Kotsopoulos

WORCESTER - A proposal to increase local water and sewer rates July 1 has cleared its first hurdle.

The City Council Public Works Committee last night unanimously endorsed rate hikes that will increase the average annual combined water/sewer bill for single-family homeowners by about $12, according to Robert L. Moylan Jr., commissioner of public works and parks.

Mr. Moylan said the rate increases are needed to keep pace with operation costs and the costly burden of compliance with regulatory mandates on water and sewer utilities

While the commissioner described the rate hikes as "slight increases" compared to recent years, he cautioned that more significant increases could be in store in future years because of additional mandates that may be imposed by federal and state regulators.

In particular, he said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's impending storm-water permit requirements could burden local water users with millions of dollars in additional costs.

"We expect to see further increases imposed on us by regulators," Mr. Moylan told the committee.

If approved by the entire City Council, the water rate for all in-city users would go up 6 cents to $3.31 for every 748 gallons of water used, while the water rate for out-of-town users would increase 20 cents, to $3.60.

The sewer rate, meanwhile, would go up 12 cents to $5.52 per 748 gallons of water used. Sewer usage for residential properties is based on 80 percent of metered water usage.

With the rate hikes, the annual combined cost for water and sewer services will increase for the average single-family home to roughly $927.

In comparison, the average combined water/sewer bill for homeowners in communities within the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority district is projected to be $1,364 next fiscal year.

Mr. Moylan said the biggest driving factor behind the 12-cent increase in the sewer rate was federal mandates imposed on the operation of the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District sewer treatment plant in Millbury.

He pointed out that it cost the city about $3 million to have its sewage treated at the Upper Blackstone plant in 2005; next fiscal year that cost is expected to be more than $15 million. He said regulatory mandates are chiefly responsible for such a dramatic increase.

Councilor-at-Large Kathleen M. Toomey, chairman of the Public Works Committee, applauded Mr. Moylan for being "very upfront and pro-active" in making the public aware about the impact that regulatory mandates are having on water and sewer rates.

She called the increases "quite sobering" and said some of the EPA's regulations are "outrageous."

"We're not the only community having an impact on the Blackstone River, yet, we've really been penalized the most (through EPA clean-water mandates)," Ms. Toomey said.

Worcester is the headwater of the 48-mile long river, which flows into Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 19, 2012
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