Northampton public works officials to address water, sewer rates before council tonight
NORTHAMPTON — A year after taking heat for not providing advance warning of water and sewer rate increases, public works officials will bring their message to a larger audience tonight: on community news broadcast before the City Council.
Department of Public Works Director Ned Huntley and Board of Public Works Chairman Terry Culhane are on the agenda to explain how both immediate and long-range water and sewer projects will affect rates for the coming fiscal year and beyond.
The presentation comes before the BPW discusses — and likely sets — new water and sewer rates for the next fiscal year, a move that’s expected at the board’s meeting next Wednesday. Those rates will likely be higher, though not as high as increases in recent years, Huntley said.
The council meeting begins with public comment at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers of the Puchalski Municipal Building.
The brouhaha a year ago followed the BPW’s decision to hike sewer rates by 9.4 percent and water rates by 9.09 percent, a move that caught many residents by surprise and added an average of about $130 to their bills this fiscal year.
Ward 6 City Councilor Marianne L. LaBarge raised the issue at a subsequent council meeting and later joined a group of her constituents who expressed frustration over the increases at a BPW meeting.
Those increases, however, were not a new development. The board has chosen to increase water and sewer rates by similar amounts in recent years to prepare for massive upcoming projects to upgrade the city’s aging water and sewer systems and to meet required federal and state mandates.
Increases of about 9 percent each year has helped the DPW build reserves for these looming projects and avoid even worse shock for ratepayers down the road, Huntley said.
The money will help fund many projects, though an exact number and cost estimate won’t be known until a pair of comprehensive studies are finalized this year. The water study is expected to be released in the next month, with the wastewater study pegged for completion this fall or early winter.
The board intends to use these studies to prioritize projects and establish an estimated rate schedule going forward. With reserves starting to build up and those plans incomplete, Huntley said that the board will likely consider a “nominal increase” for the current fiscal year rather than the 9 percent hike in recent years.
Huntley said the board wants to wait for the reports so they can develop an overall sewer and water plan.
“We know there are these huge projects looming out there, but we haven’t actually defined them yet,” he said.