Water Industry News

Rate hikes in Brockton needed for water plant

By Jennifer Kovalich, Enterprise staff writer

BROCKTON — The price at the gasoline pumps may not be the only rising costs hitting residents in the wallet.

The City Council is expected to consider hiking water and sewer rates to help pay for a $17.5 million water treatment plant upgrade and a mandated wastewater treatment plant upgrade that now has a price tag of about $86 million, up from a previous $61 million.

"The increase is going to be needed to pay those bonds," said Mayor James E. Harrington.

The last water rate hike that was approved by the City Council went into effect in 2004, the first increase residents saw in 10 years. At that time the average single family home saw its water bill rise about $27.50, basically an 11.6 percent increase.

Harrington blamed the potential additional 10 percent rate hike on the costs of the water and sewer upgrades, some which he said the city is under orders to make by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Protection.

"Obviously it's not something we want to do," Harrington said of the potential rate hikes.

But the city has to meet the mandates on the treatment plants, and may even be facing a monetary fine, the mayor said.

Brockton has been negotiating an administrative consent decree — an agreement that would set forth restrictions on what the city can and cannot do with its treatment plant— with the EPA for the past several years. Once that is fully negotiated the city is then expected to learn if it will face any fines for conditions it has not met, Harrington said.

A "disturbing" point, the mayor said, is that even though Brockton is basically under orders to do the work, there is no federal or state funding coming in to help the city pay for it. The city will receive a $20 million low-interest loan from the state for a portion of one of the projects, but that will have to be paid back.

"It's a huge burden on the rate payers," Harrington said.

The city has six block rates that are measured in volume per 100 cubic feet, which is about 750 gallons of water. The more water households or businesses use, the more they pay for the increased usage.

According to figures proposed by the Brockton Water Commission, water rates could jump by 17 cents from $1.70 to $1.87 per 100 cubic feet for the lowest volume users and by 50 cents for the highest volume users per 100 cubic feet, going from $3.32 to $3.82 in that block.

Sewer rates could climb 20 cents per 100 cubic feet on the lowest volume user end and jump 51 cents per 100 cubic feet on the high end in the first year of a proposed five-year rate hike that would increase each Jan. 1 starting to 2007 and going to 2011.

Harrington said the rising cost of the wastewater treatment plant upgrade is due to changes in requirements by the EPA.

"They changed the requirements for what can and cannot be in the water when it goes out the plant into the river," Harrington said. "Whenever they do that we need to change how we process the water. We have to meet that permit. It's a very difficult thing to do."

City Water Systems Manager Brian Creedon said the upgrades to the water treatment plant has been necessary to replace aging parts.

"We're not letting things breakdown. We're fixing them where they need to be fixed," Creedon said.

The city's infrastructure is aging, he said, estimating that about 150 miles of the city's water pipes are between 90 and 110 years old.

City Council President Dennis DeNapoli said he expects residents will be upset about the increased rates.

"How do people feel about increases in anything? They don't like increases," DeNapoli, of Ward 5, said.

Even if the city does increase rates, DeNapoli said he believes they are still in line with those in surrounding communities.

The City Council Monday night is expected to refer discussion on the proposed rate hikes to the Finance Committee.

Jennifer Kovalich can be reached at jkovalich@enterprisenews.com






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