Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Holyoke sewer fee increase fails

from The Republican; Wednesday, September 03, 2008
By KEN ROSS

HOLYOKE - A City Council move to increase the fee for sewer service failed by a narrow vote Tuesday.

The council voted 7-6 in favor of the increase. But because the motion requires a two-thirds majority vote, the proposed rate increase was not approved.

Voting in favor of the increase were Councilors Diosdado Lopez, Joseph M. McGiverin, John J. O'Neill, John P. Brunelle, Patricia C. Devine, Anthony M. Keane and James M. Leahy. Voting against were Councilors Rebecca Lisi, Todd A. McGee, Elaine A. Pluta, Peter R. Tallman, John E. Whelihan and Timothy Purington. Councilors Kevin A. Jourdain and Donald R. Welch were absent.

If approved, the sewer use fee would have been raised by 74 cents or 15.8 percent from $4.66 per 1,000 gallons to $5.40 per 1,000 gallons.

The increase is needed mainly to help pay off $6 million in debt for the city's new sewage treatment plant and $3 million for a combined sewer overflow abatement project on Mosher Street, William D. Fuqua, Department of Public Works superintendent, has said.

Several councilors spoke in favor of the proposed rate increase. "I certainly don't want to see an increase but I think it would be short-sighted for us to vote against this," Keane said.

"I think we have to do the responsible, fiduciary thing," Leahy said.

But opponents to the defeated rate increase mainly noted the way the sewer system is currently managed through a contract with a private company, United Water.

"We do have the capacity to manage it on our own," Lisi said.

That's why Pluta said she believed the city should investigate the possibility of getting out of the contract with United Water.

"We have no oversight as to what's going on," Pluta said.

Last month, Fuqua said he hoped to implement the increase as soon as it was approved by the council. "It's important because we're losing about $150,000 a month in anticipated revenue," Fuqua said Aug. 6.

On May 19, the Board of Public Works voted 3-0 in favor of recommending the rate increase.
The proposed increase was not a big surprise because public works officials planned two years ago to review sewer rates every two years, Fuqua said in May.

As a result, Fuqua said he does not envision rates going up again in the near future.

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At September 9, 2008 at 8:51 AM , Blogger Councilor Lisi said...

from The Republican

Taxpayers hit for sewer work
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
By KEN ROSS


HOLYOKE - The City Council's decision last week not to raise sewer rates will likely result in taxpayers footing the bill for any additional related sewer costs.

"The (city's) general fund has to make up any kind of deficit," Department of Public Works Superintendent William D. Fuqua said Monday.

"If they don't pay for it with sewer fees," Fuqua added, "the general taxpayers will pay for it."

On Sept. 2, the council voted 7-6 in favor of the increase. But because the motion requires a two-thirds majority vote, the proposed rate increase was not approved.

Voting in favor of the increase were councilors Diosdado Lopez, Joseph M. McGiverin, John J. O'Neill, John P. Brunelle, Patricia C. Devine, Anthony M. Keane and James M. Leahy. Voting against were councilors Rebecca Lisi, Todd A. McGee, Elaine A. Pluta, Peter R. Tallman, John E. Whelihan and Timothy Purington. Councilors Kevin A. Jourdain and Donald R. Welch were absent.

If approved, the sewer use fee would have been raised by 74 cents or 15.8 percent from $4.66 per 1,000 gallons to $5.40 per 1,000 gallons.

The increase is needed mainly to help pay off $6 million in debt for the sewage treatment plant and $3 million for a combined sewer overflow abatement project on Mosher Street, Fuqua has said.

There is no surplus in the city's sewer fund, Fuqua said. As a result, any unforeseen sewer costs will have to be paid for by all property taxpayers.

Most, but not all, city residents are connected to the city's sewer system, Fuqua said. The city has 7,000 sewer customers. But some residents are not connected to the sewer system and instead have personal septic systems on their property.

That's why some city councilors have said they don't believe it's fair to make residents using septic systems pay to maintain and operate the sewer system.

"It wouldn't be fair to have people on a septic system pay for others," City Councilor John P. Brunelle said Aug. 28.

Fuqua plans to discuss with the Board of Public Works whether to pursue another rate increase request.

The proposed increase was not a big surprise because public works officials planned two years ago to review sewer rates every two years, Fuqua said in May.

As a result, Fuqua has repeatedly said he did not envision rates going up again in the near future if the rate had been increased last week.

The last time sewer rates were increased was October 2006, when the council approved a 139 percent sewer rate increase, raising rates from $1.95 to $4.66 per 1,000 gallons of metered water.

 
At September 9, 2008 at 11:26 AM , Blogger Rebecca Lisi said...

The September 9 article in The Republican is not quite accurate.

The sewer rate increase needed to pass with 8 votes- a simple majority of the full body. Unfortunately, two councilors were unable to make it to the meeting that night, which caused some confusion over the number of votes required to pass the rate increase.

Passing the difference in sewer costs onto the taxpayers cannot happen unless the City Council votes to pass that motion.

The sewer rates we are currently paying have far surpassed the projections provided by Aquarian when the city first signed the contract. The rates have gone up and part of the rate increases ensures that United Water is retaining adequate profits for itself, at the expense of productivity and maintenance.

 

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