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The Board of Selectmen has approved a water rate increase on all three water usage tiers. Effective immediately, the new rates are as follows:
Tier 1: $1.73 per h.c.f. (0 – 5,000 c.f.)
Tier 2: $5.08 per h.c.f. (5,001 – 15,000 c.f.)
Tier 3: $9.84 per h.c.f. (15,000+ c.f.)
(1 cubic foot (cf) = 7.48 gallons)
(h.c.f. = hundred cubic feet)
The Selectmen consulted with the Finance Director and the Treasurer/Collector and reviewed consumption analysis from the last six years and across the three tiers in order to provide sufficient funding for fixed costs in the Water Enterprise Fund and rising Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) assessments. The new rates will also help recoup a revenue shortfall from fiscal year 2018 in the Water Enterprise Fund, which is intended to be fully self-funding.
Why the increase?
The 2018 shortfall was due to (1) a higher assessment for the cost of water from the MWRA (based on 784 million gallons pumped due to the drought in 2016) and (2) less actual water use billed because there was more rain in 2017 (leading to only 629 million gallons pumped in 2017). This revenue shortfall produced a $1.2 million deficit that was resolved for fiscal 2018 by using $770,000 in retained earnings or surplus funds available in the Water Enterprise Fund and a $400,000 transfer from the Finance Committee’s reserve fund. The retained earnings available in the Water Enterprise Fund to offset the deficit was higher than usual because of the higher revenue received during the prior drought year.
In order to accomplish the Town’s dual goals of both financial and environmental sustainability, it is necessary to raise the rates in all billing tiers. Even with the rate increase, Weston’s water rates are still lower than the average of rates in area towns. The three-tier system was put in place in 2016 to address larger families’ household water usage, as distinguished from irrigation usage, while also preserving benefits for households that use less water than average, due to size or household conservation efforts. Water rates were not raised in 2017 because the Selectmen and town officials were trying to determine the full impact of the three-tier system.
What did we learn from this?
The three-tier system provided an additional level of clarity in identifying properties that heavily irrigate. The weather extremes of the drought followed by a wet summer further highlighted that when less water is used, particularly within Tier 3, less revenue is received to cover operating costs. But of course, water conservation is good for the environment and remains an active goal for the Selectmen. A new wireless water meter reading system was approved by Town Meeting and will be put in place over the next year. This system will allow Town personnel to quickly monitor and read meters and allow for better forecasting of future water consumption. It will also allow residents themselves to closely monitor their personal water usage, alert the Public Works Department to potential leaks or other issues, and identify opportunities to conserve water by reduced irrigation and other measures.
What does the water bill include?
The next water bill will include water usage covering a six-month period during the winter up to late spring/early summer. Bills are sent twice a year, in the fall and spring (until the new wireless system is installed, all water meters in town are individually read by personnel, so there is some variation in billing periods). Water rates are set after MWRA assessments are received and the consumption forecast is analyzed.
Tips to conserve household and landscape water use:
For tips on how to conserve water, please visit www.mwra.com/comsupport/conservation/hometips.htm. This site also has helpful information on how to maintain a healthy lawn without relying on heavy irrigation.