NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — City ratepayers will get a credit on their future water and sewer bills — but they shouldn't expect too much.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the average residential bill will probably see an average $7 to $8 abatement.
The credit, ranging from $5 to $25, will cover overpayments in quarterly bills sent out over the next three months.
"It's a bit of a pickle," said Alcombright on Wednesday. "It's our mistake but if people will go along with this, it will help us clear things up."
The City Council on June 10 voted in raises in water and sewer rates effective July 1. But the bills sent out last week contained charges applied retroactively to April.
A resident contacted his office to question a bill, the mayor said, and research by Administrative Officer Michael Canales found that the city had been charging new rates based on the billing quarter dating back to the 1970s and possibly '60s.
City Solicitor John DeRosa, whose opinion was requested by the resident, told the administration that "past practice" wouldn't fly.
"To the extent that the Fiscal Year 2015 bills include billing for usage that occurred prior to July 1, 2014 the charge for such usage shall be based upon the rate in effect prior to July 1, 2014," he wrote.
The problem now has been trying to figure how the credit would be applied. Averaging the new and old rates over a period of time wouldn't work because the billing dates vary from when the meter is read, nor would recalculating every bill.
"Our accounting system is too old," the mayor said. "We don't have a lot of flexibility."
KVS, the software supplier, is developing a short program to determine the abatement, but the data may have to be entered manually.
In the future, rate changes may be instituted based on the quarter they're approved or on a date far enough past the beginning of the fiscal year.
"Hopefully, that's something we won't have to be dealing with for another few years," Alcombright said.
Water rates were raised 10 percent and sewer rates 8 percent as part of a revenue package and were expected to raise a total of $372,000.
The abatements will trim about $35,000 off that amount.
The mayor said he wasn't too concerned about the figures at this point. The important number is the total of receipts, he said, not the individual items.
"There are a lot of variables in local receipts," Alcombright said. "There are a lot of things that can affect local receipts."
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