Some Water Bills to Go Down, All Trash Bills to Go Up

As the City enters this new fiscal year, changes in billing for City-provided services are being implemented.

Half of the City’s water and sewer customers will see reductions in their bills, with the remaining half continuing to enjoy the third year of rate freezes.  Trash fees, however, will be going up for those who pay the City for the pick-up of non-owner-occupied residential units and commercial properties.

“The City’s budget is balanced in various ways utilizing more than 50 different revenue accounts, including those collecting water and sewer and trash fees,” said City Manager Jay Ash. “For this FY’14 Budget, we’ve decreased water and sewer fees by nearly $400,000, but increased trash fees by about $100,000.  In total, those paying both should see a modest reduction in their combined costs.”

Water and sewer fees pay exclusively for the cost of operating and maintaining those services. Using a tiered system, higher fees are charged for bigger users, which, in effect, reduces the cost of water and sewer services for smaller user. Those smaller users are typically one, two and even three-person households –  and smaller stores whose primary business does not involve dispensing water.

The reduction in charges collected will impact higher users and not those on the lower end, Ash said.

“Our bottom fee is already below what it normally could be and is about average for the entire MWRA district.  So, in providing the $400,000 in rate relief for this year, we are targeting it to those who are already paying a greater share of the tab,” said Ash.

Rate tier one users, those who use less than 1,000 cubic feet a month, will continue to pay the same rate they have been charged since January of 2011. The City will drop more users into tier two, from tier three, by expanding tier two from between 1,000 and 1,500 cubic feet to now include those who are using up to 2,500 cubic feet. The top tier will now begin at 2,500 cubic feet.

“Ratepayers who were formerly in tier three will see a savings, either by being dropped down to tier two, or by having more of their cubic feet usage charged at the lower, tier two cost,” said Ash. “In summary, the costs for each tier aren’t changing. We’ve just expanded the amount of usage that will get charged at the lower tier two rate, instead of the higher tier three rate.”

Ash reports that 66 single family, 331 two-family and 706 three-family ratepayers, as well as 182 commercial ratepayers and other residential property owners, will see lower bills as a result of the tier expansion.

“The City Council continues to ask us to keep water and sewer bills down,” said Ash. “This effort is a direct result of that and of our increasing ability to better manage our operations and capital needs within the entire utility system.”

One of the major voices in that fight for lower rates has been Councillor Giovanni Recupero, who has made it his business to bring up the subject frequently at Council meetings.

This week, he said he was happy with the result, but said it didn’t mean he would quite advocating to get even lower rates for the typical homeowner.

Another voice, Councillor Joe Perlatonda, said he was pleased to see the rates decrease or stay the same, but he said raising the trash fee on those who pay it kind of offset any gains.

“On the one hand, you do have lower water and sewer rates, but then they turn around and raise the trash fee,” he said. “That just takes away any savings one might have seen from the water and sewer rates. It’s not great news for everybody.”

Regarding trash fees, Ash said the City decided to increase fees by 5 percent to help cover increases in costs related to pick-up and disposal.  The fee will increase by just over $12 a year to approximately $270.

That fee is assessed to every residential unit that is not occupied by the property owner and for which the City provides curbside pick-up service.

“The last couple of years, we programmed for no increase or for a more nominal rise in the fee, but we couldn’t cover the rising costs associated with our trash program any longer without going up the 5 percent,” said Ash. “We think we can hold the water and sewer charges level for another year, but, looking out, I think the trash fee will continue to increase around 5 percent unless we all do a better job of recycling.”

The City pays to dispose of trash, but pays nothing to have recycling picked-up. Ash said his hope is that more recycling will take place, thereby driving down the 20 million pounds of waste the City’s contractor picks up annually.

“Recycling translates into green: a greener environment and local property owners keeping more of their cash,” he said. “We’re out talking with more and more people about recycling, but we need property owners, especially our bigger property owners, to work with their tenants to encourage recycling.”

Chelsea’s recycling rate has climbed to 8 percent, but that number is still less than a third of the statewide average of more than 26 percent.

“We need to do better for our environment and our bottom lines, both for recycling and for water and sewer usage” stressed Ash.  “In the meantime, the City will continue to manage these services and seek every option we can find to keep our charges as low as possible.”

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