Friday, December 5, 2008

Council approves sewer rate increase

from The Sun

by: Aimee Henderson
December 5, 2008


HOLYOKE – After months of discussion and disagreement, the City Council voted on Tuesday night to raise the city’s sewer rates by 15 percent from $4.66 per 1,000 gallons to $5.40 per gallons of water used.

The Council voted 8-6 in favor of the increase, with one councilor absent. Voting against the increase were Councilors John Whelihan, Kevin Jourdain, Rebecca Lisi, Diosdado Lopez, Elaine Pluta and Peter Tallman. Councilor Timothy Purington was absent.

The sewer rate increase had been tabled at the council’s last meeting after a 9-6 vote in favor of tabling the report. The council had previously voted on the rate increase at their Sept. 2 meeting in a 7-6 vote favoring the increase, but a two-thirds vote was needed to pass.

The increase is needed to pay construction costs, which will prevent sewage overflow into the Connecticut River totaling closeto $9 million. There are also costs from outstanding loans, interests and user fees, since the wastewater treatment plant has been privatized.

Councilor John O’Neill led the discussion in favor of the increase, saying, “We are mandated as a council to fully fund the budget we have approved.” He added, “The deficit continues to grow because we are not adequately funding it.”

For years the sewage fees have brought controversial conversations, starting when the city hired AOS Operating Company three years ago to run the wastewater treatment facility. Last year the council raised sewer rates by 139 percent, which wasn’t enough and so the most recent increase was brought forward.

O’Neill argued that the increase was the only way to fairly fund the budget, ensuring money from free cash or the stabilization fund wouldn’t be used.

“We have to (increase rates),” said O’Neill. “That enterprise budget is bleeding.”

Councilor Jourdain did not see eye-to-eye with O’Neill saying the 15 percent increase in unaffordable to the average Joe during these economic times.

“Even through the last fiscal crisis in 1991 we didn’t raise rates,” said Jourdain, adding that the increase would only be good for the next couple years.

“The City Council should be setting the rate, not using this ‘take it or leave it’ approach.”

An order filed by Jourdain which would modify how rates are set passed later in the meeting.

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