By Seth Daniel
Water and sewer ratepayers can expect a nearly 5 percent increase to their bills starting this month due to a 10 percent surge in water costs, City Manager Tom Ambrosino said.
“The combined water and sewer rate is up 4.76 percent,” he said. “That’s mainly because water costs are up 10 percent this year, while sewer costs are up only 2 percent. It will mean an additional $70 for the year on the bill. The new water rate is up substantially. That is about a 5 percent increase on the bill over last year.”
Ambrosino said the Water & Sewer Enterprise Fund ran a $600,000 deficit this past fiscal year, causing the water costs to go up significantly.
“We didn’t raise rates at all in 2016, so that contributed to a lot of the deficit,” he said. “Some of the deficit is due to the implementation of the meters and tuning up of the finances. We owe some people credits and people who owed us money, we forgave half of that debt. Some of the deficit is due to that. The 10 percent increase for water this year actually won’t even cover our expenses in this fiscal year. Even with the increases, we’ll still end this year with a modest deficit, but we decided to do that because we didn’t want to raise rates too high in one year.”
There has not been a rate increase, he said, since July 1, 2015.
He said he plans to raise rates incrementally from now on in order to avoid such spikes and said residents shouldn’t anticipate any more years with 0 percent rate increases. That, he said he has learned while being a mayor in Revere, only leads to large increases in the coming years.
The City discovered a large discrepancy in its water and sewer billing system late last year due to the fact that for many years there were only estimates being applied to bills. That resulted in many people being billed too little and some being billed too much.
The City resolved to correct all problems associated with the metering issues this year using credits and the forgiveness program.
One piece of good news on the water and sewer front is the implementation of the long-sought-after senior citizen water discount.
Owner-occupants who are 65 years old and over will, for the first time, be eligible to get a 10 percent credit on their water and sewer bill.
This was requested for many years by Councillor Giovanni Recupero, who was rebuffed multiple times by the previous Council when he called for the implementation of such a program. This week, he said it was a good day for the people of Chelsea, especially the seniors.
“I always knew this could be done, but they never wanted to do it,” he said. “They said we couldn’t afford it and it was a bad idea and all kinds of things. Today, I’m happy to tell the senior citizens in our community that own and live in their homes that they’re going to get a break. They deserve a break and now they’re going to get one. We should have been doing this before.”
Ambrosino said the City is still working out the details, and that those qualifying and applying for the program will likely see the discount on the January bill.
“We’ll see how it works out,” he said. “This is year one for the program and we might eventually expand it. Seniors in the program should probably expect to see the discount on the January bill. If you qualify, you’ll see that 10 percent discount on the billings from calendar year 2016.”
The rates are as follows:
•Tier 1 combined water and sewer rate, $12.96 HCF* (4.76 percent increase)
•Tier 2 combined water and sewer rate, $14.73 HCF (4.96 percent increase)
•Tier 3 combined water and sewer rate, $17.19 HCF (5.03 percent increase)
(*HCF = Hundred Cubic Feet, which is equal to 748 gallons)
Trash fees are proposed to be increased by 5 percent across the board, but owner occupied single-family units in Chelsea do not pay a trash fee. Owners pay for unoccupied units, as do commercial property owners, churches, schools and non-profits.