Residents fed up with paying for poor water quality will find no silver lining in the Foxborough Water & Sewer Commissioners’ decision to hike water & sewer rates Monday.
That’s because the rate increases, which take effect immediately, will not bring any immediate relief to residents experiencing brown water in town. Instead, the newly approved hikes are said to be long overdue and necessary because the town’s enterprise account currently isn’t bringing in enough revenue to cover costs.
“The enterprise account is not generating enough money to support the expenses we have,” Foxborough Board of Water & Sewer Commissioners vice-chair Michael Stanton said at Monday’s rate hearing. … “We have kicked the can down the road forgoing increases and doing what we should be doing because every other elected board in town is grabbing money two-fisted and that’s probably the biggest mistake we’ve made. We should have been more aggressive in putting the right price on [water and sewer]. Appreciation is a real cost and we’ve never accounted for it.”
Commissioners chair Bill Euerle echoed Stanton’s explanation for the rate increases.
“We need the money,” Euerle said. “We aren’t raising enough revenue this fiscal year that we are in to pay the bills for the money we appropriated last spring for this fiscal year. We are going to have to have a transfer at the Annual Town Meeting to pay the bills from reserves that was not anticipated.”
Stanton stressed these rate increases do not even begin to address the ongoing problem of water discoloration in town.
“This doesn’t include any big capital improvement plans … nothing,” Stanton said. … “It’s just keeping pace [with costs] without hitting [the water department’s reserves].”
And that means more rate increases are on the horizon as the town aims to fix the water quality issue.
“[The water quality problems] will never get fixed if we don’t raise the rates,” Stanton said. … We are going to be in a position next year where you are going to have to look at [rate increases] probably twice a year,” Stanton said. “I think you are going to be [looking at rate increases] until we come forward with a capital improvement plan.”
Stanton said the town should have been increasing water and sewer rates “two points a year” but didn’t because the board was trying to be “sensitive to everybody” following the financial collapse of 2007-08.
“Shame on us,” Stanton said. … “We should have already had four of these 6 percent increases in the last two years. … Here we are.”
DPW Director Roger Hill said while the water and sewer rates vary based on use; the best indicator of cost for average homeowners and businesses is the minimum rate. For water, that rate was $53.52 per quarter year for 750 cubic feet (5,600 gallons) or less before Monday’s 6 percent increase. The new minimum water rate, according to Hill, will be $56.73 per quarter. For sewer, the rate was $53.82 per quarter year for 750 cubic feet (5,600 gallons) or less before Monday’s 7.5 percent increase. Hill says the new minimum sewer rate will be $57.86 per quarter.
“The block rate structure in place now increases the price per cubic foot in increments, for example, from 750 cubic feet to 3,000 cubic feet currently the water rate is $ 56.20 and from 3,000 to 7,500 cubic feet the rate is $182.94,” Hill said. “Above 7,500 cubic feet the rate is $ 445.05. These block rates will also increase by 6 percent for water and 7.5 percent for sewer.”
The Commissioners added they will likely revisit the water and sewer rates in six months.
“We are not [raising sewer] 7.5 percent because we need 5 percent,” Stanton said. … “We are not [raising water] 6 percent because we need 4 percent. … We will probably be keeping a tighter rein on this in six months to see where we are and where we need to be.”
Mayfair Realty president and co-owner Kevin Weinfeld and Mayfair Vice President of Operations Rich Feeley attended Monday’s hearing to vent their frustrations regarding the water issues residents at their communities on Ledgeville Road and Chestnut Street are currently experiencing.
Feeley shared six photos recently taken by a Mayfair resident on Chestnut Street experiencing an “extreme” case of brown water.
“I will give you one reason why I don’t think I should pay a penny more [for water],” Feeley said as he handed the photos over to the town’s commissioners. … “You are asking us to pay 6 percent more for that water. It’s not right.”
The photos, taken on Jan. 24, were described by Weinfeld as looking like “somebody got stabbed in a bathtub.”
“This has been going on for years,” Weinfeld said. “I don’t want to hear that it’s going to take five more years for the next pumping station to get fixed. I don’t want to hear it will be another five years until you get down to station one. Why is it called Station One? It’s the oldest one. The line in the ground is the oldest and it should have been replaced. The station is the oldest and it should have been repaired. That’s the place it should have started. It shouldn’t have been the last place it should have been the first place.”
Feeley added the water seen in the photographs provided by the Chestnut Street resident was as bad as he’s ever seen it.
"This is every day use water ... it would not pass DEP standard ... it's just wrong," Feeley said.
Not only is the poor quality an aggravation for Weinfeld and Feeley, it is also becoming increasingly bad for business.
“We have residents calling up and saying we are going to move,” Weinfeld said. “Not just we are going to move from one side of town to the other, we are going to leave town.”
Weinfeld and Feeley said they are in the “hot spot” of the town’s water problem and as such asked the commissioners if the town would be issuing abatements to customers affected by the brown water. Euerle said the town will not offer rebates or abatements to rate payers because it is “impossible to manage.”
“We have refused every one of those requests,” Euerle said. “The problem for trying to rationalize any particular abatement is that this section of town is hit this week and another section of town is hit another week. It creates an impossible situation for us to manage. I really don’t want to be part of any rebate system.”
Hill said the heart of the problem is the old section of the system on Chestnut Street, Pumping Station Road and Mechanic Street. In order to effectively remove brown water from the system, the town will need to invest in replacing pipes and repairing pumping stations.
“It will take money,” Stanton said.
In the meantime, the town will periodically flush the system but that procedure cannot take place during the winter.
“Flushing is spring, summer and fall work,” Hill said. “We will do it, we just can’t do it now.”
To read more on the town’s water quality problem, click here.