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

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 last 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, and $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, is expected to net an additional $300,000 in revenue.

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

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

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