© The Stoneham Independent

STONEHAM, MA - Suspecting many residents inadvertently forget to schedule payments, Town Administrator Thomas Younger last week advocated for breaking from the practice of sending irregular tax and water bills.

During a meeting last Tuesday night in Town Hall, the Town Hall manager suggested Stoneham's decision years ago to save on postage by sending out quarterly tax bills on a biannual basis might actually be hurting the municipality's bottom-line.

Based off of his assumption, many townspeople are getting caught up in the whirlwind of day-to-day living and forget to send in tax and water service payments after receiving bills months in advance. To test that hypothesis, he proposed reverting back to the old system, whereby quarterly tax bills are sent out to residents on a quarterly basis.

"We send out two bills simultaneously as one bill. Does that mean people are sticking it away and forgetting about it?" he asked. "I know if I was getting a certain bill that's expected to be paid quarterly but is only sent twice a year, I might forget about it."

The town administrator is proposing the change as Town Hall's financial team is grappling with an apparent uptick in the number of water and sewer bills being left unpaid.

Earlier this spring, Younger was forced to drastically hike water and sewer rates by a combined $4.30 as a result of lower than anticipated revenue collections.

The financial discrepancy, which will cause an estimated $75 spike in the average homeowner's bill for the last quarter of the fiscal year, was initially uncovered by new Town Accountant David Castellarin, who in late March pegged the mid-year deficit at around $117,000.

The miscalculation, which followed on the heels of two consecutive years of water and sewer rate reductions, is also carrying over into FY'19, as Town Meeting was required to drain all reserve funding in order to make-up for the loss. As a result, base charges will be set at $6.25 for every 100 cubic feet of water and 9.34 for sewer usage.

Since coming to Town Hall, Castellarin has called for a complete overhaul of the manner in which water and sewer operating costs are calculated. Specifically, Stoneham up until just months ago utilized a model based off of year-to-year consumption trends, while the town accountant instead utilizes a "collected" consumption approach that takes into account actual customer payments.

According to Younger, a top-to-bottom review of water and sewer account practices recently led to his surprising discovery of the bi-annual billing method.

"To be honest, I didn't even know [we were doing this], because it's just so unusual," he said. "You might save a couple of thousand dollars on the postage, but then you [probably lose at least that much from people who forget to pay]."

According to Selectman Caroline Colarusso, if the town administrator's theory is correct, he should be able to track the drop-off in revenues by looking at payment history trends from before and after the billing change.

Colarusso does believe the assumption has merit, as she has spoken to residents who have related embarrassing experiences, where they went to Town Hall to pull a building permit or conduct some other routine business and found out their taxes are in arrears.

"I'm not a fan of the two mailings," said the selectman.

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