City Council Establishes Pittsfield's Water and Sewer Rates
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday approved a 10 percent increase in water rates and a 12 percent increase in sewer rates per year for fiscal years 2022 and 2023.
They were passed in a 6-4 vote with Councilor at Large Karen Kalinowsky, Ward 1 Councilor Kenneth Warren, Ward 2 Councilor Charles Kronick, and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio opposing. Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey was absent.
Mayor Linda Tyer’s original proposal was to increase the water rates by 12 percent and the sewer rates by 15 percent but the finance subcommittee in February made a recommendation for the reduced rates that the council supported.
At the last council meeting, a charter objection by Kronick halted the vote to establish the rates after two hours of debate.
With these rates, a two-bathroom home will see an increase of about $77 annually in the fiscal year 2022, and a metered household that uses 220 gallons of water a day will annually pay about $65 more.
They are retroactively effective Jan. 1, 2022, and support the water and sewer enterprise, debt service for capital projects, fund increases in salaries and expenses for utility system operations, and build retained earnings.
Maffuccio reiterated his concern for the raise because Pittsfield is already a "poor area" with many elderly and disabled residents. He also pointed to the hardships that people have faced because of the pandemic and the recent rise in gas prices.
"I have a lot of elderly people that I represent, I have a lot of blue-collar, family working people that I represent who have to work two, three jobs," he said.
"My job is being dedicated to them, I'm not being cowardly, I'm not sitting here saying that I wouldn't do it next year, I'm not sitting here saying, 'You know, sometimes that's what we get paid for, to make the hard votes, it’s a tough decision somebody's got to do it.' What about having some compassion? Don't we at some point in time have to have compassion? You tell me, what have we done for our city residents to give them compassion and help them along on the recovery of a pandemic?"
Kronick believes the solution to not raising the tax rate is using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. He queried Tyer on the matter, who insisted that it is in the city's best interest to use the funds for capital expenditures and not for operating costs.
A new provision in the final rule from the U.S. Department of Treasury allows municipalities to use a standard allowance of up to $10 million for revenue loss. This is an alternative to the previous revenue loss calculation formula that was laid out by the Treasury.
Pittsfield has selected the standard allowance because the amount claimed under revenue loss can be used for general government services.
"We opted for the standard deduction by taking the $10 million but we have not programmed how we're going to use that money and I would suggest that it is not in the city's best interest to use those funds for operating costs," Tyer said.
"One time infusions of funds such as the American rescue plan including the lost revenue should be used for capital expenditures to advance the future of our city so for example, we are using $7 [million] or $8 million to be budgeted for repairs to the Ashley Reservoir and the dam, so we feel strongly that these funds should not be used for recurring operating expenses, it's not going to solve the problem in the long run that we have in front of us now, so we really feel strongly that capital expenditures are the best use of the American Rescue Plan funds."
Kronick suggested using $1 million of the ARPA funds and applying them to expenses and Tyer reiterated her stance.
"I do not think that's the best solution which is why we didn't propose it. What happens when we no longer have a million dollars to put towards water and sewer rates? What happens is that it just prolongs the impact to the ratepayers," she said.
"Our proposal offers a phased approach that eases the cost and the burden of funding the operations of water and sewer, we don't believe we should be using American Rescue Plan money for operations because all it does is create a structural problem in the long run when we no longer have that money to fund the operations."
President Peter Marchetti eventually discontinued Kronick’s line of questioning, saying he had asked the question and Tyer had answered it.
During the conversation, water meters were commonly called for so that residents can save money on their bills. Councilor at Large Pete White asked Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales if the city would have to raise the same amount of money if everyone had a water meter and he confirmed that it would.
The rates were last increased in 2019 when residents saw a 10 percent water increase and a 50 percent sewer increase.
The staggering sewer increase was a part of Tyer's plan to pay for a $74 million wastewater treatment project. The city has been under an administrative order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to lower the levels of phosphorous and aluminum in the water coming out of the plant.
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