Steaming over rates
Residents voice water bill concerns
June 17, 2009
SOUTHBRIDGE — Around 15 residents gave town officials an earful about a planned 3-percent increase in water and sewer rates Monday morning. They didn't change anything this year, but prompted a pledge to pursue monthly billing, sell more water out-of-town, and hold an earlier, evening hearing next year.
To many of those present, the issue was less this year's hike than the fact that rates in the last few years have gone up a lot — combined, nearly 100 percent since 2005, by resident John Gatti's calculations, with which several in the room agreed.
Town Manager Christopher Clark, who said those rate hikes were necessary because Southbridge hadn't changed its rates for the previous 10 years. Although users benefited from those lower bills, they didn't account for the fact its sewer and water plant operation contracts include clauses requiring annual payment increases of 2 to 5 percent defined by the consumer price index, he said.
During those low-cost years, Clark said, the sewer and water departments were essentially borrowing money from the town by not paying for Town Hall staff's time working on billing and other service issues, and prior manager Clayton Carlisle "recaptured" that money. Under the law, the sewer and water departments are supposed to be independent, setting rates that cover their actual expenses to run the systems. In Southbridge, the town hires two contractors to do it — sewer plant operator Veolia and water system operator Whitewater.
See Wednesday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage.