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Amherst sewer rates proposed to increase, water rates to hold steady

AMHERST — A typical Amherst homeowner will pay $12 more annually for use of the municipal sewer system beginning July 1 if a proposed rate adjustment is enacted.

Town Manager John Musante informed the Select Board this week that he is recommending the rate for sewer use rise from $3.45 to $3.55 per 100 cubic feet, effective July 1.

“It’s what I would describe as a modest increase in the sewer rate,” Musante said.

The Select Board will hold a hearing and make a decision on the adjustment at its Jan. 28 meeting.

The increase in the sewer rate is needed to cover the projected $4.1 million sewer department budget, which is $114,228, or 2.9 percent higher, than this year’s $3.99 million budget.

Included in the budget are the first-year payments for debt related to extending the town’s sewer system on Harkness Road, Wildflower Drive and Amherst Woods, a $4.2 million project approved by Town Meeting in fall 2011, the last year of payments on the $1.4 million sewer extension project on Chapel and Mechanic streets, as well as $255,000 in improvements to collection and treatment systems and the Department of Public Works facility.

Unlike the sewer rate, the water rate is proposed to remain at $3.40 per 100 cubic feet.

Though the water department budget is projected to increase by a more substantial 8.6 percent, or $336,892, from $3.93 million to $4.26 million, to pay for salary adjustments and other personnel costs, the bulk of this is expected to be covered through what Musante calls “consumption assumptions” related to the opening of the 1,500-bed dormitory at the $186.5 million Commonwealth Honors College campus at the University of Massachusetts.

The water use, primarily from these new living units, are expected to net an additional $300,000 in water-related revenue.

Sewer bills for the average four-member family, using 90,000 gallons of water annually, or 12,000 cubic feet, would go up from $414 to $426, while water bills would stay at $408. At $834 combined, the Amherst homeowner is paying $274 less than the state average of $1,108, based on a Tighe & Bond survey completed three years ago.

“We remain substantially below the average state water and sewer bills,” Musante said.

The bills are also lower than nearby towns, with Hadley customers paying $1,007 annually and Northampton $1,026 every year, according to information supplied by Musante.

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