Easthampton seeks double-digit increases in water, sewer rates

  • Joseph I. Pipczynski, director of the Easthampton Department of Public Works. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/20/2020 11:32:20 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The Department of Public Works is recommending that water and sewer rates increase by double-digit percentages annually for single-family residential customers over the next three years to pay for $2.7 million in badly needed upgrades and repairs to the city’s systems.

Department of Public Works Director Joseph Pipczynski stressed that the upgrade work is not optional.

“This is not a director’s wishlist,” Pipczynski said.

The DPW recommendation does not include a separate stormwater fee, instead suggesting a plan that would keep stormwater costs lumped in with sewer costs in the city, a move that would be easier on commercial and multifamily customers.

The Board of Public Works meeting Thursday where the proposal was unveiled was jampacked with members of the public.

Pipczynski and William Hardy, chief operating officer of the civil engineering firm Tighe & Bond, presented two different plans, each of which raise water and sewer rates over the next three years to fund repairs to the city’s water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure.

The plan recommended by the DPW would increase the total water and sewer bills for a residential customer using 1,500 cubic feet of water quarterly from $503 this fiscal year to $568 in fiscal year 2021. This would in turn rise to $643 in fiscal year 2022 and $732 in fiscal year 2023. These represent 12.7%, 13.2% and 13.8% increases.

For a commercial customer with 4,500 cubic feet of quarterly water usage the cost would go from $1,404 in fiscal year 2020 to $1,584 in fiscal year 2021, $1,795 in fiscal year 2022 and $2040 in fiscal year 2023. This represents increases of 7.8%, 7.5% and 7.3%.

The other plan put forward, though not recommended, would impose a stormwater fee of $124 on all single-unit residential customers, while multifamily and non-residential properties would be charged stormwater fees proportionally in equivalent residential units. Determinations for these other properties would factor in such things as parking lot size.

With the stormwater fee included, residential customers with 1,500 cubic feet of quarterly water usage would see their total bill rise from $503 in fiscal year 2020 to $567 in fiscal year 2021, $656 in fiscal year 2022 and $683 in fiscal year 2023.

This translates into 12.7%, 15.7% and 4.1% increases.

This includes the stormwater fees, although in fiscal year 2021 the fee is listed as only being $60, because it would start in January and not at the beginning of the fiscal year.

By contrast, a commercial customer with 4,500 cubic feet of quarterly water usage and whose property was rated at 10 equivalent residential units would pay more under this system. Total water, sewer and stormwater bills would go from $1,404 in fiscal year 2020 to $2,035 in fiscal year 2021 to $2,726 in fiscal year 2022 and $2,801 in fiscal year 2023.

This translates into big increases of 44.9% and 34% in the first two years, followed by a 2.8% increase in the final year.

In this case, the stormwater fee would be $620 in fiscal year 2021 and $1,240 in the subsequent fiscal years.

Pipczynski said that he was recommending the option without the stormwater fee because putting it into place would also require the approval of City Council. And, speaking after the meeting, Pipczynski said that he didn’t think City Council has the appetite for it, “because of what happened with the schools.”

While the cost of upgrading the water, sewer and stormwater systems of the city has been estimated at around $22 million over five years, the increases brought forward on Thursday would be used to cover $2.7 million of work over three years.

Pipczynski said he didn’t factor the final two years, and the remaining cost, into the DPW’s rate increases because they are less clear and are likely to require bonding.

Members of the public asked multiple clarifying questions at the meeting, many of which were answered by Pipczynski. It was made clear that there were no new federal and state mandates on discharge behind the planned increases, but that if the system is not repaired the city runs the danger of violating its existing commitments and getting fined.

The Board of Public Works will hold a public hearing on Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. in City Council chambers, where members will discuss and potentially vote on the rate changes.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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