Residents Plan Protest on Water and Sewer Rates

Cathleen Napoli and other residents are fed up with the recent water and sewer rates in Winthrop so she  took to social media and the airwaves to let everyone know how shocking the bills are.

Napoli started her protest with a posting on Facebook page called “Winthrop Open Discussion.”

She’s calling for a rally at noon on Saturday, March 9 at the Ingleside Park Gazebo, with a rain date of March 16, to protest the recent water and sewer fee increases.

In addition, Napoli wants to invite the Massachusetts State Auditor’s Office to conduct an audit of the methodology, accuracy and fairness of the current Water Sewer assessment process.

On Tuesday night, the Town Council and the Town Manager heard from others who were ticked off about the water bills too.

 “We have the second raise in our water bill in a year and I’m concerned about that,” said Diane Sands of Precinct 5. “The second hike in a year is kind of outrageous. I’d like to go along with an audit.”

Per the State Auditor’s office, they can only conduct this audit if the town government votes to request the audit.

Water and sewer rates were just raised 17 percent in May 2018 because of a water and sewer budget deficit when Police Chief Terry Delehanty was interim town manager. It was said then that there was a risk to raise the rate further because a higher rate often resulted in less usage by residents. This has been the case with a six percent reduction in use from last spring.
In May, Town of Winthrop will increase water and sewer rates by $3 per hundred cubic feet beginning with the current billing cycle.

The increase, from $19.90 per hundred cubic feet to $22.90 is the result of a drop in the amount of water used by the Town in the first half of the billing year.

The reason for the $3 rate increase is to offset a projected $576,000 deficit caused by a 6 percent reduction in usage based on the first two billing cycles of this fiscal year. This deficit must be offset by June 30, 2019. There are no new projected increases in expenditures beyond those that have been previously planned.

Town of Winthrop’s Water/Sewer Rate Frequently Asked Questions

What is the new water/sewer rate?

The combined water/sewer rate has increased by $3 per hundred cubic feet as of Feb. 4, 2019 from $19.90 to $22.90.

Wasn’t there also an increase last year?

Yes, the water/sewer rate increased in May 2018 from $16.90 per hundred cubic feet to $19.90.  This was primarily due to an increase ($272,282) in the assessment that the Town pays to the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) for the purchase of water.  The MWRA calculates the assessment based on the water usage during the prior three years.

The water/sewer rate increase to $19.90 was also necessary to afford $440,300 in new debt for critical water/sewer projects for the town and $121,852 for equipment.

Additionally, the previous rate was insufficient to support budgeted expenses for fiscal year 2018, which was projected to result in a deficit of $479,000.  The rate increase in May 2018 and efforts to curtail spending partially mitigated this deficit.

Why is the water/sewer rate increasing again?

Based on the first two quarter billings in fiscal year 2019, usage was down 6.2% over a similar period in prior fiscal years.  Reduced usage results in a projected deficit of $576,000 for the remainder of fiscal year 2019.  The increase from $19.90 to $22.90 is necessary to remediate this deficit with only two billing cycles remaining in the fiscal year (which are the two lowest billing cycles during the year).

It’s important to note that the increase is not a result of any spending added after the original fiscal year 2019 budget process.

Why doesn’t my rate go down when I use less?

The MWRA assesses the town using a three-year usage calculation.  Because of this, current usage does not affect the current assessment charged by the MWRA.  Current decreases in usage and any future usage changes will over time be factored in by MWRA to future assessments that the town receives.

Why can’t we reduce spending instead of increase rates?

Much of the increased spending is for the required debt service payments for previously completed infrastructure improvement projects.  The first payments for the debt service for certain projects began in fiscal year 2019.

Additionally, there are other fixed costs that are not currently possible to reduce without a significant impact on service delivery to the community.

What is the community getting from these rate increases in return?

The community has an aging water/sewer infrastructure.  The projects related to the debt service payments are critical to ensure the continued delivery of safe drinking water to our residents.

Are these rate increases going to continue?

The Town Manager has committed to not altering the rate until July 1, 2020.

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