Pittsfield water and sewer rates likely changing again what to know

Pittsfield water and sewer rates likely changing again what to know

Pittsfield residents should brace for another increase in water and sewer rates, as city officials are set to implement an 8 percent hike. This change, which is part of a new rate-setting formula, aims to provide more stability and fairness to taxpayers over time. The Pittsfield City Council has already given preliminary approval to the rate increase during a recent committee meeting.

If the council confirms this decision in their upcoming regular meeting on June 11, the typical two-bathroom home will see their monthly water and sewer bill rise by $6.78, translating to an annual increase of $81.36 starting July 1. For a typical four-person household with a water meter, the monthly increase will be $4.51, or $54.13 annually. This will bring the total yearly water and sewer bill to approximately $1,097 for a two-bathroom home and about $734 for a four-person household.

These increases are notably lower than last year’s hikes, which saw water rates go up by 12 percent and sewer rates by 25 percent. The new 8 percent increase is the result of a formula developed by the Marchetti administration, which the council is considering incorporating into city ordinances. This formula takes into account both national inflation rates and local infrastructure needs.

Ricardo Morales, the commissioner of public services and utilities, explained that the formula includes the consumer price index (CPI) published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which measures inflation. This year, the CPI is at 5 percent, and the operational stability factor (OSF) is at 3 percent, leading to the total 8 percent increase. The OSF, which will be set annually by the commissioner and subject to council approval, is designed to cover the costs of major infrastructure upgrades, such as those planned for the Ashley and Cleveland Water Treatment Plants.

The city plans to spend $2 million on designing upgrades for these plants in the coming year, with a $90 million investment projected over the next five years. These projects will add significant debt to the city’s water and sewer enterprise funds, which will be paid off through the increased rates and retained earnings.

Morales presented a projection for future water and sewer rates if the city adopts this new formula. The projection suggests a 7 percent increase in sewer rates in FY 2026, followed by 5 percent increases in subsequent years. For water rates, a 10 percent increase is projected for FY 2026, stabilizing at 8 percent increases in the following years. Morales emphasized that these projections are part of a budgeting exercise and could change, but they illustrate how the formula aims to provide predictable and stable rate changes.

Councilors generally supported the new formula, with Councilor Rhonda Serre praising it as good fiscal planning. “At least now we have guardrails and numbers guiding us year-to-year, so we’re not pulling the rug out from under taxpayers all of a sudden,” Serre said.

Initially, the Marchetti administration proposed a 10 percent cap on the OSF to protect residents from steep increases. However, the council voted to reduce this cap to 8 percent by a 6-4 margin. Councilors Kathy Amuso, Dina Lampiasi, Patrick Kavey, Serre, council President Pete White, and council Vice President Earl Persip III voted in favor of the reduced cap, while Councilors Alisa Costa, Brittany Noto, Ken Warren, and Jim Conant opposed it.

The city’s mission remains to deliver high-quality drinking water and reliable sewer services in a cost-effective and environmentally responsible manner. The Utilities Department continues to provide 24-hour emergency response, maintenance of sewer mains, meter reading, and other essential services.

In related news, the $70 million upgrade of the Pittsfield Wastewater Treatment Plant is nearing completion. This project, which began three years ago, aims to remove threats of federal fines by updating decades-old equipment and monitoring systems. The plant, which has been operational since 1902, now features some of the latest technology for nutrient removal and water treatment.

The project, which cost between $69.5 million and $70.5 million, was completed under budget. It was initiated after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set new discharge limits for the Housatonic River in 2008. After years of non-compliance and legal battles, the city finally authorized the necessary borrowing in 2018.

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the project has been a success. Ricardo Morales noted that construction was disruptive but necessary to ensure the plant’s continuous operation. Carl Shaw, the wastewater treatment plant superintendent, highlighted the ongoing efforts to treat water and meet permit requirements even during construction.

The plant, located on a 120-acre site off Holmes Road, processes up to 12 million gallons of wastewater daily. The project has optimized the treatment process, including the addition of a tertiary system to remove nitrogen and phosphorus. The plant’s clarifiers, which allow denser materials to settle, were also upgraded.

The resulting dense material is processed into a dark soil, which is collected by Casella Organics. This project marks a significant milestone in the city’s efforts to improve its water and sewer infrastructure, ensuring a cleaner and more efficient system for the community.

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