The Winthrop Town Council met virtually on Tuesday, May 19 where it heard a presentation by Dick Hingston of Giusti, Hingston and Company on water and sewer projections for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. Hingston estimated that there would be a one-dollar rate increase per hundred cubic feet of water used. Residents currently pay $22.90 per hundred cubic feet.
One hundred cubic feet is approximately 748 gallons. According to the Massachusetts Water Resources Commission, the average Massachusetts resident uses 65 gallons of water per day. A one-dollar rate increase would mean each Winthrop resident would have to pay an additional dollar every 11.5 days, or $32 per year. For a household of two, that would equal an average increase of $64 per year, and an extra $128 per year for a family of four. Of course, this is based on average use. Some households use less water and some use more.
This is not the first time the town has been hit with a combined water and sewer rate increase. In May of 2018, the rate surged three dollars from $16.90 to $19.90 per hundred cubic feet. In February of 2019, it jumped another three dollars from $19.90 to $22.90. The proposed increase would raise the cost to $23.90.
Residents and councilors alike pushed back against the increase, citing the economic crisis the state now finds itself in due to COVID-19.
“Even at the current rate, I can’t walk my dog around the block without getting yelled at about water rates,” said Councilor Nick LoConte. “It’s worth exploring other options available besides raising the water rate.”
“I can’t believe a dollar would be considered,” said caller Karen Chavis. “At this time, a dollar increase is a lot to ask.”
“Like taxes, water rates never go down,” said caller Betty Dalton. “We should do everything we can to not raise the rate again.”
However, Town Manager Austin Faison explained that there was not much he could do to stave off the increase, which is equal to rate hikes in surrounding towns.
“This is not something we have much decision in,” he said. “There’s a bill we get from the [Massachusetts Water Resources Authority] and we need to pay.”
State mandates also come into play. Winthrop is required to replace a certain amount of lead water and sewer lines annually.
Councilor LoConte suggested that Faison look into the recently submitted FY21 budget to see where other expenses could be stripped in order to keep water and sewer rates the same.
“That’s $430,000 you want me to cut from the budget,” said Faison. “I proposed a balanced budget. I’m not going to make cuts to stabilize water and sewer.”
Council Vice President James Letterie agreed.
“No one wants a rate increase,” he said, “but knowing the budget, it’s impossible for the Town Manager to be able to [make cuts].”
One caller named Diana said she was less concerned with the water rate hike and more concerned with property taxes increasing.
The Transcript reached out to Faison and members of the council to ask if it was possible to realize an educational campaign to help residents reduce their at-home water usage.
“The water rate is based on debt and the Town’s assessment from MWRA,” he responded in an email. “The assessment uses a three year average of usage, so any immediate decrease in usage will not be reflected in a user’s bill.”
However, Faison added that over time residents could see a reduction in their rate through practicing more responsible water usage at home. He invites residents to educate themselves by going to mwra.com/comsupport/waterconservationmain.htm.