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Braintree water, sewer projects to affect rates

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  August 1, 2013 03:12 PM

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In the midst of sewer repairs and negotiations for a new water treatment plant, Braintree officials said residents should expect ongoing projects to have an impact on rates.

The town has been itching to resolve existing problems within the water and sewer operations for some time, negotiating the resolution to an aging water treatment plant with Holbrook and Randolph, and dealing with ever increasing sewer costs from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

Though water rates – set by the town - are expected to increase 3 to 5 percent over the next few years, officials hope that sewer rates – set by the MWRA - should not see such severe increases as the 19 percent increase levied this year.

“I think our efforts will be recognized in the future and we’ll see a more modest increase in our sewer rate,” said Peter Morin, Braintree’s chief of operations and staff.

Pressing problems have had to do with sewer. Braintree saw a 19 percent increase this year in the town’s sewer assessment, which is derived annually to pay for the MWRA handling the town’s sewer.

Braintree has seen increases for the past several years, but nothing as high as the fiscal 2014 number. The town absorbed a 5.1 percent increase in fiscal year 2013, a 1.9 percent increase in fiscal year 2012, a 3 percent increase in fiscal year 2011, and a 2 percent increase in fiscal year 2010.

According to Ria Convery, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, rates are calculated by looking at shares of the system-wide flow, strength of flow, and population relative to the total system. The flows are then averaged for the last three years to avoid spikes from particularly rainy years.

For Braintree's FY14 assessment, 57% of it was driven by flow-related factors and 43% by population, Convery said.

Yet according to Morin, the flow-related formula hasn't been accurate, as Braintree has done more work to prevent infiltration than the MWRA has given them credit for.

“We’ve made them aware that we don’t think it’s an accurate assessment of the work we’ve put in, and we’re going over the numbers,” Morin said.

In the meantime, the town has had to pay for the fees, increasing sewer rates from $643 to $699 for the average user, and taking nearly half a million from sewer earnings to accommodate the remaining amount.

“What we’ve done, rather than pass that total impact of that increase on to consumers, we’re spending $400,000 in retained earnings from the W&S system to reduce the average bill,” Morin said.

The fee is a one-two punch to Braintree ratepayers, who are not only being hit with the financial consequences of not doing enough work, but have had to spend additional money to avoid the costs in the future.

Morin said an MWRA program allowing communities to take 0 percent interest loans or grants to do sewer work is helping circumvent future costs.

“We’re using that to the full extent now, so that in the next couple of years we won’t see this level of increase again,” Morin said.

According to Convery, Braintree has utilized $5.3 million of allocated funds on projects to remove excess water from the sewer system and has $1.8 million still available to do additional work.

"The less flow from the community, the smaller the community’s flow share," Convery said.

Water rates, however, may see more incremental increases depending on the direction of a Water Treatment Plant.

“We’ve got to resolve the treatment plant issue and how we’re going to pay for it, and the rates have to account for those costs,” Morin said.

Braintree is still unsure if a built treatment plant would serve their neighboring communities, what level of federal assistance would be available, and how any costs would be divvied up.

For now, water rates have increased five percent in FY14, from $428 to $458 annually for the average user.

According to Morin, the town went six years without any water rate increase, and so the number should start to tick up with some regularity now.

“I think [rates] will probably be in this area but probably lesser, probably 1-2 percent less. This is a 5 percent adjustment for the average household. It will probably be in the 3-5 percent increase over the next coming years,” Morin said.

Regardless of pending water increases, Morin said the town’s rates are adequate.

“We’re right where we should be in comparison to our neighbors as far as what we charge,” he said.

To see a comparison of water rates throughout the state, click here.

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