Braintree residents will see on average a $78-a-year increase in water rates set to take effect this month, officials said.
Approved as part of the fiscal 2012 budget, the rates were increased to deal with an approximate $900,000 shortfall in the Water and Sewer Enterprise Account, said Chief of Operations and Staff Peter Morin.
The study, done by the Abrahams Group in May, analyzed the town’s water and sewer account, which had been dipping into retained earnings for several years to make up budget deficits.
Moreover, sewer fees were covering water account operating costs.
As rates have remained unchanged since 2007, town councilors voted to reduce sewer fees and increase water fees, overall giving the average household a $78 annual increase, or about 8 percent, this year.
Customers with the lowest consumption – generally seniors and single-person households, will see a $19 increase, also about eight percent. The largest commercial users – restaurants and industries throughout town, will see increases of $2,830 to $11,035, or 11 to 12 percent.
“It’s a question of equities. If you’re not using it as much, you shouldn’t be bearing the burden of an increase. The individuals or companies that are using a lot of water should bear that burden,” Morin said. “We looked at usage throughout. We looked at actual bills and usage of actual residents and we ran what their new bill would be if their usage was the same, and that’s where we came up with [this increase breakdown].”
The town will use approximately $1.2 million in retained earnings and $68,846 from the Water and Sewer Rehabilitation Fund to mitigate the impact of the increase, Morin said. However, the rate changes should help the town reduce its reliance on outside funding.
This way, the fee will cover the basic costs of the system, including administrative, billing, and metering costs.
Residents may see an additional increase in future years, when the town stops using retained earnings to pay for its services.
“We will have a better idea about whether or not a further rate adjustment is necessary when we analyze the consumption data for the fiscal year that just ended and the first six months of next year,” Morin said. “However, if a rate adjustment is necessary, it is likely the town will again use retained earnings to reduce the increase, although it would be less than the $1.2 million used this year.”
According to Morin, although the town invested $2 million in capital expenses last year to maintain the current water-treatment plant – a cost that is covered under this most recent rate increase - the town is also looking into invest in another water-treatment plant.
“We need to make a decision probably in the next year. The mayor has been working with Holbrook and Randolph for the last few years to try to come to an agreement on a direction forward, and we’re in a position where that decision has to be made one way or another, and once that’s made, we have to put the finances in place to carry it out,” Morin said.
Although those financing could come in the form of another rate increase, Morin said the town would do any improvements in a financially responsible way, that is “sensitive to the economy and to the ratepayers,” he said.
“We are going to make sure we avoid any major [rate] increases, and any increases that are done are modest and are affordable for our residents,” Morin said.