For an average family, new rates and fees would cost about $175 more per year.
BROCKTON – Next week, city councilors will debate higher rates and new fees to use the city’s water and sewer systems, pitting the need to replace crumbling infrastructure against taxpayer pocketbooks that have been stretched thin by the coronavirus.
365体育官网It is a battle local politicians will return to time and time again in the wake of the costly pandemic.
365体育官网Proponents of the rate hike and new user fees say the additional $3 million collected each year will enable the Department of Public Works to replace water mains that date back, in some instances, to the 19th century.
The consequences of leaving such infrastructure in place can be severe. In February, much of Brockton’s east side spent the weekend without water after a water main laid in the 1920s broke underground. The DPW found that several gates that could have quickly confined the leak to a few city blocks were broken, extending both the length of time residents went without water and the impacted area. Some neighborhoods with older water mains also suffer from lower water pressure and water discoloration.We can deliver news just like this directly to your inbox. You can sign up for This Just In (a daily 7:30 p.m. newsletter with items we've posted that day), News Alerts (so you don't miss anything important) and more. It's customized to your preferences -- and it'll only take a few seconds.
365体育官网Commissioner Larry Rowley, a 40-year veteran of the department, said the city’s water system is meant to be financially self-sufficient. But after going about 10 years without a rate hike, the cost of operating the system now exceeds revenue collected through rates, and the city takes money from its general fund to cover the difference. At-Large City Councilor Rita Mendes, who is open-minded about the rate hike, said those general funds could go toward public safety or schools.
Mendes added that housing subdivisions in Hanson, Pembroke, Abington, Avon and East Bridgewater benefit from Brockton property taxes by paying only their water rates into a system that requires subsidies from the city’s general fund to operate.
The user fees, proposed by the DPW at $25 per financial quarter but lowered by the city council to $15, would be a new expense for all residents of Brockton. Unlike communities served by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, Rowley said Brockton residents currently do not pay a user fee.
365体育官网With its current lack of funding, Rowley said DPW replaces water pipes on one or two dead-end streets per year, and the problems aboveground are only made worse by what’s going on below.
“Some of these people have been held hostage with bad roads, which I’m embarrassed about, because I can’t get any work done if there’s bad infrastructure underground that needs to be replaced anyway,” he said.
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With new funding, Rowley said his department could secure loans and retain outside engineers to begin a multi-year campaign that would lay 23 new miles of replacement water mains in a system with about 300 miles of pipes. Street paving could begin once that work is done, Rowley said.
Opponents of the rate hike and new user fees say the timing of the request is absurd, even if some city councilors acknowledge the need to replace the city’s aging water infrastructure.
365体育官网At-Large City Councilor Win Farwell, a former mayor of the city, aligned with councilors Tina Cardoso and Susan Nicastro to table the ordinance earlier this month, effectively killing it. Seven other members of the city council’s ordinance committee voted to continue the conversation.
365体育官网“The world changed so dramatically after this ordinance was filed in January. People are wondering how they’re going to meet their current financial obligations,” Farwell said. “This is not the time to even discuss what might be an added financial burden.”
365体育官网As the ordinance currently stands, the increase in the rate residents pay for water would vary depending on how much they use. Elderly people and single-person households who consume relatively little water would see no increase at all, aside from the user fee, which Mendes said anyone can potentially avoid if they qualify for a financial hardship waiver. Everyone else, from families and small businesses to schools and hospitals, would see increases between 5 and 20 percent in their water rates.
For an average household consuming about 3,000 cubic feet of water per financial quarter, the increased rates and the quarterly user fees would cost them about $175 more per year than they’re already paying on their water bill. Estimates for the increased sewer bill are unavailable at this time, but are expected to be less.
365体育官网Rowley, the DPW commissioner, as well as several proponents of the rate increase and user fee on the city council say the increased bills would not be due until the fall.
City councilors on both sides of the debate have invoked the coronavirus as justification for their arguments. Mendes, who lost water during February’s water main breakage on the east side, said the need for reliable access to clean water has never been more apparent.
Nicastro, one of the councilors who voted to delay further discussion of the ordinance, said “there’s been deferred maintenance galore and I’m very aware we need to address it, but we need to put a hold on charging more money until we get an idea on where we’re at with the impact of the coronavirus.”
Staff writer Ben Berke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org