Burlington public works officials are likely to present a hike in sewer rates to the Board of Selectmen in the next few weeks, but the town’s water and sewer rates will still be much lower than those of neighboring towns.
An annual survey of water and sewer rates in 56 communities showed that Burlington’s 2009 annual water charges for an average household was the lowest at $144.50, and the sewer rate, $327.90, was third lowest.
The average rate for the towns on the survey was $468.50 for water and $727.70 for sewer.
Burlington had the lowest combined rates and only Clinton and Winchester had lower sewer rates.
The survey was conducted by the advisory board of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA). The MWRA is a public authority that provides water and sewer services to 61 communities in the greater Boston area.
According to the MWRA survey, the average increase in combined water and sewer rates from 2008 to 2009 was 5.3 percent, and Burlington’s rates rose 6.2 percent.
John Sanchez, director of Burlington's Department of Public Works, said he expects the proposed water rates for the next fiscal year, which will be proposed to the Board of Selectmen in the next few weeks, to remain fairly low.
However, he expects sewer rates to increase. “Over the last couple of years there has been lower use—we need to make up some money to pay the bills so sewer rates may go up.”
Burlington receives sewer services from the MWRA, but the town has its own water treatment plants and does not buy water from the MWRA, according to according to Sanchez. The MWRA does operate the town’s sewer systems.
While it appears that Burlington is getting a steal on their water and sewer services, Sanchez said the town’s water costs are comparable to other communities, and the low rates stem from how the town charges for the services.
“The Selectmen made the decision not to charge for the whole cost of the service,” said Sanchez.
Instead, he said, the rates recover the cost of operation and maintenance and not capital improvements (for example, the cost of painting water tanks). These extra costs are paid for by taxes.
“That cost could be charged through fees, which is legitimate and legal, and that’s why rates are what they are (in other towns). This town made the decision (not to do that),” Sanchez said.
He added: “The important thing is that our water costs are comparable to other towns. The real effect is the Board of Selectmen made a decision to make rates lower—not that the cost isn’t there, it’s just paid for in a different manner.”