Water, sewer rates projected to rise in Amherst

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, May 09, 2022

AMHERST — Capital projects to improve water and sewer service, and a continued impact from the significant drop off in consumption in Amherst during the pandemic, are prompting a proposal to increase user rates.

If approved by the Town Council this spring, the proposed rate adjustments coming from Town Manager Paul Bockelman would add about $41 to the $878 average combined bill for both water and sewer, based on a household’s use of 9,200 cubic feet of water per year.

The proposal is for the water rate to increase from $4.60 to $4.75 per 100 cubic feet and the sewer rate to go up from $4.90 to $5.20 per 100 cubic feet.

Finance Director Sean Mangano explained that, in addition to paying the wages and other costs associated with the water and sewer systems, special projects need to be covered, including rebuilding the Centennial Water Treatment Plant in Pelham, originally at a cost of $11 million but which has since gone up to $13.8 million, and $7.3 million for the gravity belt thickener that removes water from sludge, and the creation of a reuse water facility.

The water fund needs to raise enough revenue to support a $5.08 million budget, while the sewer fund needs to have enough revenue for a $4.95 million budget.

Mangano said there has a been a “choppier” ramp up from the significant dip in consumption levels, down 20% over the past two years, that began in March 2020 when the colleges and University of Massachusetts sent students home. Consumption, on average, has already been falling about 2% per year.

The town is exploring other ways of getting revenue, including from the reuse water program, applying for sewer rate relief grants and seeking financing through the Massachusetts Clean Water state revolving fund.

Officials are also investigating a rate structure change that might charge heavy water users more.

Based on using identical amounts of water and sewer, Amherst users will still pay less than the $1,344.76 in Northampton and the $964.76 in Hadley, though bills remain higher than the $825.20 in Easthampton.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Guilford Mooring said that even when less water is used, fixed costs remain the same. This means that while the town encourages people to conserve, rates have to go up to bring in enough revenue. Mooring said that state Department of Environmental Protection regulations are also getting more expensive.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.