HOLDEN, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen continue to grapple with the issue of making fixed water and sewer rates less aggressive for low-end users and risk seeing the enterprise fund slip back into the deficit of past years.
In May 2011, the selectmen put in place a new water and sewer rate structure to address the long-in-deficit water/sewer enterprise fund. The change established a fixed fee and commodity fee for each system.
The goal, according to Holden Water and Sewer Superintendent Mark Elbag, was to more equitably distribute costs across all users, as well as to generate more revenue and reduce annual revenue variances.
Selectman Mark Ferguson said that while revenue under the new structure surpassed the revenue benchmark, the rate increase was too aggressive for those who are "often the most vulnerable residents in our town — the widowers, widows, single income earners."
"I find it unconscionable that we have a $23.09 cover charge just to gain access to our system," he said.
Acting Town Manager Jacquie Kelley said the new rate structure is bringing in enough revenue to keep the fund going, but that the town was "not collecting extraordinarily a lot more than what we planned on." She added that while there were some additional retained earnings, many of these were one-time revenues.
Gene Stirchak, chair of the Water/Sewer Advisory Board, said the question facing the selectmen is how risk-averse they want to be.
"Because, if you do reduce the amount of the fixed fee, your risk is going to go up that you're going to miss the budget," he said.
While not necessarily in favor of a reduction, Selectman Bob Lavigne said he wanted to see what the effects of a lower-fixed fee would be in order to weigh the options and correlate the risk.
Department of Public Works Director John Woodsmall explained that making a change to the fixed rate was "making a decision that the people who use more will subsidize the people who use less."