HOLDEN, Mass. — After hearing the concerns of residents and the recommendations of officials on a proposed rise in Holden's water and sewer rates, the Holden Selectboard voted 3-2 to support a 4 percent increase.
To address the long-in-deficit water/sewer enterprise fund, last year the Board of Selectmen put into place a new water and sewer rate structure, which established a fixed fee and commodity fee for each system.
"The fixed fee is designed to pay for the constant cost that the system incurs when anybody turns on the tap or flushes the toilet," said John Woodsmall, director of Public Works. "These are things such as wages and salaries and uniforms and debt service and things of a constant nature."
The commodity fee is set into an ascending rate clock, "where the more water you use, the more that you pay," said Woodsmall. "The user fee is designed to capture those things that are variable in nature, that as you use more of them, there are more costs associated with them."
Woodsmall and Water/Sewer Superintendent Mark Elbag recommended no increase on the commodity and fixed rates on the water side, no increase on the fixed fee portion of the sewer rate and a 13 percent increase on the sewer commodity fee.
"Altogether that represents an approximately 4 percent increase to the total water/sewer revenues," said Woodsmall. "It's approximately $65 a year for the average water and sewer user, so a little over $5 a month."
Some residents said their bills were already too high.
"It just seems like everything is being passed on to the people of the Town of Holden. The rates keep going up, yet the service keeps going down," said Sheila Moreau. "Why is it that we, the people of Holden are being hit with all of this?"
Selectman have not listened to the people, who don't want anymore increases, Morrow said. "We have to stay within our budgets, yet it seems that any time the town of Holden wants something, they say, 'Well, it's only a few pennies." But those pennies add up."
Yet Eugene Stirchak, chairman of the Water/Sewer Advisory Board, said the proposal is well-researched and"responsible to both the users and to the public needs. They're cognizant of the costs that go into obtaining the water, transporting sewage and also processing that sewage. So it takes into account maintenance, supply and the continuation of those things - especially in times when there are things like the ice storm. Without prudent management of the funds that are available, I believe that puts this town at a severe risk."
Finance Committee member Al Berg also supported the increase and reminded the board that it was obligated by the town's unanimous vote in support of the water/sewer budget at Town Meeting, which was dependent on the increase.
"The finance committee and the Board of Selectmen went into town meeting, where there at least 10 times as many folks as there are here tonight, and we approved this budget, which clearly was contingent upon a rate increase," he said. "Without the rate increase, this budget doesn't balance, and without a balanced budget the Department of Revenue will not certify our tax rate, and without our tax rate certified all sorts of unpleasant things will happen."
Selectman Mark Ferguson and Jim Jumonville voted against the rate increase, with Ferguson saying "the people in this town, frankly, can't afford it."
"I would suggest that this administration do their job and find the money that they're looking for in other ways," he said, encouraging the town to rein in the budget. "Do it through cuts. That's why we hired you."
Yet Selectman Ken Lipka said residents have already had their say in voting at town meeting. "It's the grim reality, and I know people don't like it," said Lipka.
"Check your phone bill," he said. "You pay 39.99 to have the phone in your house, and it makes no difference if you use it once a month, twice a month or 14 times a month, or a hundred times a month — that's called a service. You pay for the service to get it wired to your house, and we're doing the same thing here."
Selectman Anthony Renzoni said he wasn't there for the "first agreements made in 1933 with the City of Worcester when we gave our water rights away, or in 1989 when we started talking about sewage transport, or 2002 when we renegotiated a 99-year water contract," but he inherited the problem.
"There are not a lot of charges in house we can clean up," he added. "A lot of these are charges we're getting outside of our house. We made agreements with the City of Worcester, with DCR, with everybody else out there over the last 80 to 100 years that put us into this position. The answer would be a flux capacitor to go back in time and warn ourselves not to do it. But that's not an option."
"They are my problems now," he said, adding that he supported moving forward with the proposed rate increases.