Proposed water rate hike in Sheffield would see it surge by 58% - or $320 a year for average household

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SHEFFIELD — A water rate hike of 58 percent has been proposed for Sheffield residents — but first, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey wants to make sure the hike is legitimate.

If approved by the state, the new rate could add another $320 onto the average household annual water bills, or about $26 more a month, according to documents filed by the water company and state Department of Public Utilities with the town.

The last time Sheffield experienced a water rate increase was in 2010. The earliest the new rate could be charged is Sept. 1, 2018.

A public hearing on the proposed new rate will be held on Jan. 3, 2018 at 7 p.m. at Mount Everett Regional School, 491 Berkshire School Road, in the elementary school's cafeteria. Anyone interested in commenting on the rate can attend the hearing, but written comments to the Department of Public Works must be submitted by Jan. 5, 2018.

Mountain Water Systems, Inc. — which bought the town's private water supplier, Sheffield Water Co. back in February — proposed the rate increase in a petition to the state Department of Public Utilities filed in October. A call and email to Mountain Water Systems President Sheryl Fairchild were not returned Friday. The person who answered the phone at the company said Fairchild was in meetings all day and would be unreachable.

In its petition, Mountain Water Systems said it needs to raise more revenue to cover the cost of purchasing and upgrading the Sheffield system — Mountain Water Systems paid about $83,000 for the plant and its equipment. To do this, the company needs to raise another $176,095 in Sheffield — 58 percent over current revenue, the petition said.

The Attorney General's Office filed a "notice to intervene" with the Department of Public Utilities sometime before Nov. 14 when the DPU posted a public hearing notice that makes note of Healey's action. It also says she is requesting $150,000 to hire experts and investigate the validity of the water company's estimates. A call to the Attorney General's Office was not returned Friday. Selectwoman Nadine Hawver and Town Administrator Rhonda LaBombard, via assistant to the town administrator Alicia Dulin, declined to comment on the new rate except to say the private company's water rates are out of the town's control.

Because the water plant's fees are set for different meter sizes and on a tiered scale, it is difficult to explain the service rate. In its application to the state, Mountain Water Systems said the town's 480 customers currently pay an average of $551.34 per year for 72,000 gallons (the average estimated water used per account as calculated by the water company).

Under the new proposed rate, the average customer will pay $871.55 per year for the same amount of water.

Mountain Water Systems, Inc., is a subsidiary of New England Service Company, Inc.

Kristin Palpini can be contacted at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com and @kristinpalpini on Twitter.


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