Water and sewer rates will go up, which, in light of the circumstances facing Marion, is no surprise, at least to the Marion Board of Selectmen. But for water and sewer ratepayers, the surprise might not come from the rates, but more from the restructuring of the three tiers.
On May 21, Finance Director Judy Mooney, DPW Administrative Assistant Rebecca Tilden, and retired Town Administrator Paul Dawson presented data from last year and the projections for the next four fiscal years as they made their recommendations for fiscal year 2020’s rates.
Heading into the next year, Mooney said, “We are really going to be really tight on sewer, even with the rate increases we looked out – it all depends on wet and dry years. It’s a wet year … you’re down in your revenue.”
As sewer bills are driven by water usage, Mooney said a summer that resembles the spring we have just experienced would be a disaster for the Sewer Enterprise.
Tiers are based on water consumption, and with a higher water consumption comes a higher rate per 1,000 cubic feet of water.
There are 7,480 gallons in 1,000 CF.
The base sewer charge will go up from $115.33 to $118.79 next year, an increase of 3%.
Tier one sewer rates are going up 4% from $57.65 per 1,000 CF to $59.96, Tier 2 rates are up by 6% from $154.76 per 1,000 CF to $164.05, and Tier 3 went up 8% from $235.53 per 1,000 CF to $254.37.
Those who were in Tier 1 this year and in prior years might find themselves next year in Tier 2, and the same goes for Tier 2 users who might soon find themselves in Tier 3.
Tier 1 was downgraded from a maximum consumption of 1,250 CF, to a max of 1,000 CF in fiscal year 2020.
Tier 2 will change from the range of 1,251 CF – 2,500 CF, to 1,001 – 2,000.
Tier 3 will change from greater than 2,501 CF to greater than 2,001.
“That will give us an approximate $42,815 projected revenue surplus,” said Mooney. “Not much.”
“I don’t think we have a choice,” said Selectman John Waterman.
Although sewer and water rates are different, those new tier structures apply to both water and sewer bills for the upcoming year.
The water rates for FY20 are as follows: Tier 1, $39.14 per 1,000 CF, an increase of 2.5%; Tier 2, $92.15, an increase of 3%; and Tier 3, $139.52, a 5% increase from last year.
The base water charge of $41 will increase slightly to $42.03 next year.
This tier restructuring and water rate increases will result in a conservative estimate of about $216,000 in surplus revenue for the Water Enterprise for FY20.
If the Town took no action and left sewer rates and tier structures alone, the Sewer Enterprise’s surplus deficit is expected to plunge into the red drastically every year: -$178,126 in FY20; -$427,318 in FY21; -$787,161 in FY22; -$815,004 in FY23, and -$850,114 in FY24.
Sewer rates will again need to be revisited for FY21, as the data Mooney presented shows a deficit of -$177,607 in FY21 if the FY20 rates remain, plunging further to -$507,733 in FY22 at the FY20 rate, all effects of the new debt that Town Meeting has approved as it takes effect in the coming two to four years.
“We struggled with it,” said Mooney. “You know, we were looking at some huge increases if we left the tiers the way they are.”
Restructuring the tiers, Town Administrator Jay McGrail said, was the only way to protect the lower-consumption sewer and water users from taking a huge hit.
According to Tilden, about 40 percent of water/sewer consumers have been in Tier 1, although this can vary by each quarter, with consumption increasing in the summer.
It was either change the tiers or give everyone a 5% rate increase across the board, said Waterman. “We have to think about that trade off and how many people are affected.”
Dawson commented that ratepayers might have faced a possible double increase in their bills in future years if the tier structure wasn’t changed.
“We know it’s a tough thing to … approve,” Moody told the selectmen, “but I think it’s in the best interest.”
In other matters, Frank McNamee, Recreation Director Jody Dickerson, and Council on Aging Director Karen Gregory let the board know that the group was spearheading an office renovation at the Benjamin D. Cushing Community Center.
“This came about as a need for privacy at the center,” said McNamee. “We realized early on that there was a definite need for privacy.”
The cost of the project is $62,000, which will be funded through a donation from the Marion Visiting Nurse Association and the Friends of the Marion COA.
Often, said Gregory, “a senior needs to discuss financial or medical issues – serious concerns that should remain private, and they need and deserve that level of privacy and respect given to them, and it’s hard when there are no walls.”
It’s often distracting in the office too, she said, and has had to bring her work home some nights so she could concentrate.
“It’s been an issue from day one,” said Dickerson. “Especially with the privacy.”
Facilities Director Shaun Cormier said he would be providing and supervising some of the labor involved beginning in late November.
“We’d like to offer our help and save a ton of money,” Cormier said.
In the meantime, Dickerson and Gregory will utilize a portable office trailer on the property at a cost of $1,600, also funded by donations, for the four months of construction as the walls are installed at the center.
In other matters, the selectmen appointed David Bramley as a voting member of the Zoning Board of Appeals after a brief interview. Bramley received a recommendation from the chairman of the ZBA and has been an alternate non-voting member for a year and a half.
Board of Health member Betsy Dunn submitted her resignation from the ZBA after 34 years. She has also resigned from her elected position on the Board of Health.
The board interviewed William Tift in response to his request to be appointed to the ZBA and Historical Commission. The board appointed him to the Historical Commission on the spot, but will appoint the two alternate members to the ZBA at the next meeting.
The board also interviewed Ethan Gerber for the ZBA, and also for the Conservation Commission and the Marion Affordable Housing Trust. He was appointed on the spot as an associate member of the Conservation Commission and a full member of the Affordable Housing Trust.
The next regular meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is scheduled for June 4 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Jean Perry