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Water, sewer to cost more.

Byline: Nick Kotsopoulos

WORCESTER - The Department of Public Works and Parks is recommending hikes in the city's water and sewer rates that would increase the average annual combined bill for single-family homeowners by about $19.

City Manager Michael V. O'Brien 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.

Under the recommendations, the water rate for all in-city users would go up 6 cents, effective July 1, to $3.31 for every 748 gallons of water used.

In addition, the water rate for out-of-town users would increase 20 cents, to $3.60 per 748 gallons of water used.

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, Mr. O'Brien said, the annual combined cost for water and sewer services will increase for the average single-family home by $18.72, to roughly $927.

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

Also, the average combined bill in the state's 19 cities is projected to be about $1,089.

"These proposed increases are the minimum amounts necessary to support water and sewer operations and the costs to mandated improvements at the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District, as well as the costs associated with the Environmental Protection Agency's stormwater permit requirements," the manager said.

While the rate increases must be approved by the City Council, Mr. O'Brien said the water and sewer appropriations in his fiscal 2013 budget proposal will be predicated on them.

Robert L. Moylan Jr., commissioner of public works and parks, said much of the cost increase his department is facing in its water and sewer utilities is associated with increases in debt service to support capital improvements mandated by state and federal regulators.

"Ratepayers can expect continuous increases in water and sewer rates as long as the federal Environmental Protection Agency continues with their unrestrained imposition of unfunded mandates on cities and towns," Mr. Moylan wrote in a report that goes before the council tomorrow night.

"This year we again see effects of the costly burden of compliance with regulatory mandates," he added. "Costs associated with ongoing improvements at the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District are responsible for half of the sewer rate increase."

The commissioner added that since its inception in 2004, the upgrade project at the Upper Blackstone sewer treatment plant has added more than $12 million in costs annually to Worcester ratepayers.

He said that equates to nearly $200 per household annually.

Mr. Moylan said debt service associated with modernizing the city's aging water system accounts for a good portion of the water rate increase.

"We have invested continuously in our water system over the past 30 years and that investment is paying dividends in water quality and system reliability," the commissioner said. "We have a top-rated water utility that consistently provides exceptionally safe, potable water to our residents."

Meanwhile, the cost of capital improvements to the Upper Blackstone sewer treatment plant makes up a large portion of the 12-cent sewer rate hike, while debt service for improvements made to the local sewer system runs second.

Mr. Moylan wrote that the improvements to the Upper Blackstone plant, which are 90 percent funded by city ratepayers with no federal or state assistance, have increased the city's costs for treatment from $2.97 million in fiscal year 2005 to $15.2 million next fiscal year.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 26, 2012
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