Great Barrington sewer rates will spike

Wednesday June 13, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- Sewer rates in town are going up 25 percent in preparation for a number of system upgrades -- and an even larger rate increase is expected in two years.

Members of the Select Board, acting in their role as sewer commissioners, voted unanimously on Mon day to increase sewer rates from $370 to $460 per equivalent dwelling unit, or EDU. An EDU is based on the average home's use of 330 gallons per day.

The rate increase has been expected for several months, as the town needs an influx of cash to stabilize the sewer enterprise budget.

Voters at May's annual town meeting approved both the $1.8 million sewer enterprise budget and the borrowing of $4.5 million for system upgrades that correlate to the rate increase. The town received a low-interest loan for the upgrades and expects to pay $315,000 annually to pay off the loan.

The board voted against the option of raising rates to $700 per EDU, which would generate an additional $864,000 over the next two years when compared to the current rates. The rate likely will have to rise to that level in two years, however, when the town prepares for the next round of system upgrades.

But since that future increase is based on engineering estimates, the board opted to go with the lesser increase to make it easier on users for the time being.

"It's going to be a shocker in two years, but I'd rather we went on the record that we tried to keep costs as low as we could as long as we could," said Selectman Andrew Blechman.

Selectwoman Alana Chernila said the town has to be careful with its spending increases, and she was worried that it would be imprudent to raise rates above what's needed currently.

"It seems that when things get higher, the money just gets spent, and then things get higher again," said Chernila.

A handful of residents spoke out at the meeting about their desire to switch to a metering system, so users would pay for their usage, as opposed to using a system based on averages. Board members said the money still has to come in to operate the system, but they would be willing to consider the creation of a committee to research such a shift at a future date.

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