PITTSFIELD — Rates for water and sewer services will increase 10 percent and 12 percent, respectively, this year and the next, following a split 6-4 City Council vote Tuesday evening.
A series of charter objections by several City Councilors Tuesday night halted discussion and a vote on a proposed increase of city water and sewer rates until the council's March 8 meeting.
For a typical two-bedroom home in Pittsfield without a water meter, the increase in rates will mean an additional $77.20 in water and sewer fees over last year’s bill according to city calculations.
For the average metered home in Pittsfield — which consumes about 220 gallons per day — the rate changes will mean an additional $64.69 in water and sewer bills.
The vote ends a multi-week debate over how to respond to what city officials call a “structural problem” in the funding of water and sewer services. Councilors and department heads alike have chalked the double-digit increases this year to prior councils’ decisions to keep rates low or frozen all together in the face of increasing capital costs.
While city officials said personnel and supply costs are a factor in the rates this year, the biggest drain on the city’s water and sewer enterprise funds and the reason for the rate increases is a $74 million renovation of city’s wastewater treatment plant — a project approved four years ago to meet Environmental Protection Agency requirements.
City officials say that water and sewer rates have to rise over the next two years to cover major and much needed projects to the city’s water systems. City councilors say those increases are unaffordable for their residents.
At Large Councilor Karen Kalinowsky, Ward 1 Councilor Ken Warren, Ward 2 Councilor Charles Kronick and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio were steadfast in their opposition to rate increases through the four rate-setting votes during the evening.
The councilors took turns asking for “compassion” from their colleagues and proposing alternative ways to pay off the renovation project or shelter residents from the impact of the increases.
Kalinowsky, who has submitted a petition to have the city consider a water meter program for low-income residents, asked why residents and councilors were being asked today to foot a bill for a financial situation years in the making.
“They knew back in 2019 that these rates were going to go up,” Kalinowsky said, referencing a water and sewer rate study from the time that showed that rates would need to increase by double-digit percentages every year to keep up with the infrastructure costs even before the pandemic.
“We have a higher population of elderly people and this is going to affect them,” Kalinowsky said. “You guys are not making the hard decision, you’re making the easy decision.”
Kronick, who halted the discussion of rates last month by issuing a charter objection, said he took the time between the meetings to do a line-by-line review of the city’s water and sewer budgets.
He asked his colleagues to join him in a no vote in order to ask Mayor Linda Tyer to consider his solution: take $1 million from the city’s $40 million in American Rescue Plan funds to halt rate increases for the next year.
“What happens when we no longer have a million dollars to put towards it to put towards water and sewer rates?” Tyer said in response to Kronick’s proposal. “What happens is that it just prolongs the impact to the ratepayers.”
Tyer said that the city’s proposal “offers a phased approach that eases the cost and burden of funding the operations of water and sewer.”