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The City Council approved the rates with only one minor change.

Pittsfield Council Approves New Water and Sewer Rates

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council adopted increases to water and sewer rates for both fiscal 2019 and 2020.
 
The water rates are now set to go up 10 percent starting on Jan. 1 and then another 10 percent on July 1. Sewer rates are slated to increase 50 percent on Jan. 1 and remain that way through 2020.
 
The rates are only slightly different from what the mayor proposed for the next 18 months. Mayor Linda Tyer developed a seven-year plan for both the water and sewer rates with rates more heavily frontloaded in anticipation of large capital increases.
 
For Jan. 1, she was looking to raise water rates by 20 percent and sewer rates by 50 percent, both of which would stay throughout the fiscal year 2020.
 
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell was successful in his pitch to stretch out the water increase a bit. He asked for rates to go up only 10 percent on Jan. 1 and the other 10 percent increase to happen for fiscal 2020. 
 
"When you are talking about businesses, 20 percent on the water side can be substantial, especially if you are a business using a high amount of water," Connell said. "It may put us a little behind in the beginning but in the second year it should put us back where we should be as far as retained earnings."
 
Compounding the difference is somewhat minor, with Connell estimating stretching out the rates will only add 1 percent on the total bill. But the rates for water are expected to continue to increase over time and future rates are set at those later dates.
 
Tyer said she'd support Connell's proposal so long as it covered both the remainder of fiscal 2019 and continue into 2020 so the administration wouldn't have to return to the council in June asking for another increase.
 
Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo, however, questioned the frontloading of the rates. She said the water projects haven't been determined and while the administration's plan intends to build reserves for when those arise, the residents aren't really in a position to have the city stashing money aside.
 
"I don't think we need to build this thing up to have millions of dollars in there when we are hitting our residents so hard on so many other things," Mazzeo said.
 
Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood disagreed. He said the water increases for these years aren't just to build reserves but to avoid having the enterprise account run in a deficit.
 
"The projects everybody seems to be fixated on are projects out in the future years, the later years. But that does not minimize the fact that there are existing costs right now that, as the consultant pointed out and Commissioner [David] Turocy indicated, that the existing revenue structure won't support," Kerwood said.
 
A project at the Cleveland Reservoir that was approved years ago is coming to fruition this January and there are other capital projects Kerwood said are currently on bond anticipation notes awaiting to be permanently financed. He said there is also regular raises in the cost for maintenance and operations which are built into the rates. He said if rates remain flat this year, the department would run a deficit of $175,000.
 
The City Council ultimately sided with Connell's plan for 10 percent and 10 percent.
 
At-Large Councilor Earl Persip was unsuccessful at a similar proposal for the sewer rates. He asked to break it down to 30 percent on Jan. 1 and 20 percent on July 1 and the mayor said she'd comply with that request. But, he was left on an island, gaining support from only Council President Peter Marchetti.
 
Connell and at-Large Councilor Melissa Mazzeo pressed Kerwood on the responsibilities of the towns of Dalton and Lenox, both of which contract with the city for wastewater treatment. In Lenox's case, the town pays just like any city resident does. But in Dalton's case, the contract has a capital provision calling on the town to pay 19.3 percent of capital needs. 
 
Connell and Mazzeo sought clarity to make sure Dalton would be paying their share. Kerwood said Dalton is essentially charged one year behind. Pittsfield ties up the books and then calculates Dalton's percentage of capital payments and sends the bill. Kerwood said that same process will continue even with the new projects.
 
Mazzeo and Connell both cited the numbers for the next five years according to the plan and said the cost is nowhere close to 19.4 percent of the entire $74 million wastewater treatment center project. Kerwood said that is because the financing for that project will extend out some 20 or 30 years, not just five, and that project will be built into the annual bills.
 
Mazzeo and Connell were joined by Kevin Morandi in saying they wouldn't vote for any rate increases because they did not support the wastewater project.
 
"This administration, in my opinion, had some options that were not explored so I don't agree with the dollar amount for this whole project," Connell said.
 
Persip tried to sway them in saying the project is happening and his plan at least saves residents a little bit up front. Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon, however, said breaking the percentage out that way will cost the residents more in 2020 than if the entire 50 percent is made up front.
 
In the end, Moon, at-Large Councilor Peter White, Marchetti, Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo, Persip, and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli approved the 50 percent increase. Connell, Mazzeo, Morandi, and Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers opposed.

Tags: sewer rates,   wastewater,   water bills,   

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Pittsfield Continues Tax Classification Hearing Over Free Cash

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff

Mayor Linda Tyer says she wants to focus on building reserves. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday continued the tax classification hearing after clashing with the mayor over how much free cash should be used to offset the tax rate.
 
At the end of a nearly three-hour meeting, councilors and Mayor Linda Tyer were at a stalemate with the majority of the council unsatisfied with Tyer's $750,000 compromise.
 
"We are taking this out of the pockets of our taxpayers and putting it into the city coffers," Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers said. "I know that's how it works but at this moment we can afford to give some of that savings back."
 
The original proposal was a residential tax rate of $19.99 per $1,000 valuation and a commercial rate of $39.96 per $1,000 valuation, which holds the residential rate to a 57 cent increase and the commercial rate to a 2 cent increase.
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