WOBURN - The City Council last night implemented a water and sewer rate hike that will increase homeowner's annual costs by roughly $88.
During a meeting last night in City Hall, the aldermen in a 7-to-2 vote consented to the fee increase, which becomes effective by amending city ordinances regarding the semi-annual service charges passed onto residential customers for municipal water services.
According to Ward 5 Alderman Darlene Mercer-Bruen, the only council member to elaborate on her reasons for supporting the mid-year fee adjustment, she believes it would be financially irresponsible to further drain reserve funding from water and sewer enterprise funds to cover rising costs.
Earlier this week, the council's Ordinance Committee backed the proposal after learning that city costs for delivering the service had climbed by nearly 15 percent. As Mercer-Bruen explained, city officials have in the past ignored those new spending trends in order to avoid a fee increase, but the structural deficit needed to be addressed.
"I think this is something we're all struggling with, because it seems a little aggressive at 15 percent. But when you take into consideration that we're spending out of our savings account to pay bills, that's a big deal for a city with an A3 bond rating," said the East Woburn official.
"It's not fiscally responsible. We need to do this because it's been kicked down the road for too long now. At the end of the day, we don't have a choice," she added.
Prior to last night's action, homeowners' paid annual cost of $586.30 for water delivery and disposal of waste into the sewer system. That yearly expense, which is based off of unlimited consumption levels, will now climb to $674.25.
The fee schedule change also impacts commercial customers, who unlike city homeowners, are assessed a metered rate for water and sewer system usage. Under city ordinances, businesses pay a metered rate of $7.40 for every 100 cubic feet of water — which equates to roughly 748 gallons. That fee schedule will now be set at $8.51.
Sewer bills will continue to be calculated for commercial landowners by multiplying their annual water bill total by 177 percent.
Both Ward 2's Richard Gately and Ward 7 Alderman Lindsay Higgins joined together last night to oppose the legislation.
At the outset of the recent discussion, Gately made clear his frustration with the proposal and called for a roll call vote in order to draw attention to those who supported the increase. Though promising to elaborate on why he was protesting the legislation, the council ended up acting on the measure without a further explanation from the South End official.
According to Higgins, her objections were based upon the timing of the proposed jump in charges, which are being implemented in the middle of the fiscal year. The Ward 7 alderman argued that had the fees been amended at the outset of the budget year, residents would be able to absorb the $88 increase over multiple billing cycles — instead of all at once.
"I'm going to stand by the comments I made in committee. I think this is retroactive and not appropriate right now," she said.