Revere City Councillors begrudgingly approved water and sewer rates on Monday night, with the bone of contention being that several councillors were wondering why there hasn’t yet been any savings for ratepayers even after several years and several millions dollars worth of work on the system.
In general, rates didn’t rise nearly as much as many expected, including Mayor Dan Rizzo. The City’s borrowing for the multi-million dollar project to correct water, sewer and drainage systems as part of the federal government’s consent decree has now come to bear, and rates will include those borrowing costs from here on out.
That said, it didn’t affect rates as much as it has in the past when double-digit increases were routinely bantered about.
This time, combined water and sewer rates rose 2.29 percent ($15.62) for residential ratepayers and 2.53 percent ($23.10) for commercial ratepayers. The driving force in the increases were sewer rates, which were $11.71 per 100 cubic feet for residential and $17.34 for commercial.
“While we continue to be under this consent decree, it’s something we always have to think about,” said Rizzo. “Rates are going to go up this year, but not as drastically as I had originally thought…These rates in part reflect us paying down our bonded debt as a result of borrowing [for these projects] and also our increased assessments from the MWRA. We’re doing our best. I hate to beat the same drum on this consent decree, but it does put a real stress on us.”
In years past, a 2 percent increase would have been cheered, but some councillors took pause due to the fact that they wanted to know why there hasn’t been any savings reaped from the millions of dollars worth of work that has been done over the last three years.
Councillor Bob Haas – who paused for several moments to contemplate before voting in favor of the rates – led the charge in asking where the saving were in the sewer rates.
At issue is what is called ‘infiltration,’ which is defined as water (usually from rain) outside the system coming into the sewer pipes and being transferred for treatment. Such a problem results in artificially high sewer rates as ratepayers end up paying for the unnecessary treatment of groundwater.
At one point some years ago, it was estimated that 40 to 60 percent of the flows from Revere came from such infiltration. One of the major pluses coming from all of the consent decree work was the promise that sewer rates – which make up the bulk of the overall rates – would eventually decrease.
On Monday, councillors wanted to know when that might be.
“We still should see not an increase, but rather a discount based on all the work the City has been doing,” said Haas.
Said Councillor John Powers, “I’d simply like to see what the flows were prior to the work, and what the flows are now. If there is no decrease in those flows, I’d like to know why. There should be a significant decrease at some point.”
“There has to be some savings somewhere because we’re doing everything right,” said Councillor Jessica Giannino.
Councillor Steven Morabito – amidst the discussion – called for a delay in the vote, asking that the rate-setting request be sent to a committee.
He was met with stiff opposition though, as time was of the essence due to the fact that rates needed to be set and bills needed to be sent by July 1.
That led to a tit-for-tat exchange between Councillor Brian Arrigo and Council President Tony Zambuto over whether or not to call a special meeting.
Arrigo said it was “disingenuous” to say a meeting couldn’t be called; Zambuto interpreted that as Arrigo calling him a liar. In the end, they made amends, but not before some heated exchanges had occurred that may or may not be carried forward into future discussions.
Councillor Stephen Reardon concluded the matter, saying it was too late this year to get any answers about when savings might occur, but that it isn’t too late to start on getting those answers for next year.
“Perhaps we should have discussed this a month ago, but that simply is not the case,” he said. “It’s too late to do anything about this year. Let’s face it. They’ve been doing work now for perhaps three years. I would like to think that at some point we’ll see these improvements translate into savings. I would like to have a discussion with [the consultant] and the DPW about where we are with all of this.”
The rates were set in the end by a vote of 10-0, which Councillor Arthur Guinasso absent.