Path cleared for 10 percent sewer rate hike in Great Barrington

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Residents knew a potential rate hike was just a matter of time, since debt from the town's three-phase wastewater treatment plant overhaul has to be paid for somehow.

The lack of surprise apparently made for a calm public hearing at Town Hall on Monday, as town officials announced a possible 10 percent hike for 2018, and the Select Board unanimously approved it, in case it's necessary.

No one complained about the sewer rate hike, however. Nor did anyone stand up to speak on the 2018 tax rate, up 7 cents from last year to $14.98 per $1,000 of value, which the board set Monday as well. The median home in town is valued at $301,000.

Sean VanDeusen, director of the town's Department of Public Works, said a 10 percent rate increase would, for the average homeowner, amount to about $46 per month in 2018, which is $552 annually. And with the same increase each year over the next five years, it would help cover $11 million in debt from the last two phases of upgrades, he said.

It would also cover capital projects to upgrade pump stations and other improvements to adhere to state Department of Environmental Protection regulations, VanDeusen noted.

He reminded everyone that the plant operates through an enterprise fund, so the revenue comes only from taxpayers.

Later, he told The Eagle an increase next year isn't a sure thing. There are many variables, including how much other town revenue and possible grants can offset it, he said.

"I just wanted people to know a scenario that's possible," he said. "It could be less, it could be more."

Both VanDeusen and Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin said a steep rate hike a few years ago made for some ratepayer pain, and the town would rather prepare now with steady increases of 10 percent each year for the next five years.

"We knew this was coming. It's not a surprise, and we talked about it," said Select Board Chairman Sean Stanton.

Besides, the annual homeowner cost of what would be roughly $552 after an increase isn't the highest around, and it's well below the state average of $750, VanDeusen noted.

He added that the annual rate in Lenox is roughly $600. In Lee, it's $650.

VanDeusen later explained why costs are going up as towns have had to upgrade.

"These systems were all built in the 1970s, and they're reaching the end of their life."

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871


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