PEABODY — Peabody residents can expect to pay more for their water and sewer service next year.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt will be before the City Council soon — likely in the new year — to ask councilors to approve new rates he says will help absorb the cost of recent infrastructure projects throughout the city, as well as greater demand for services. This proposed increase comes on the heels of an average $164 hike for Peabody homeowners under the new property tax rates approved two weeks ago.
Those infrastructure projects include the water line replacement for Gardner Street and major upgrades to the city’s two water treatment plants, which totaled about $4 million. The city borrowed the money for those projects, but Bettencourt points out that Peabody’s water and sewer rates haven’t increased since 2007, and there have been other infrastructure projects.
Assessments from the Mass. Water Resource Authority and South Essex Sewerage District have also continued to increase due to greater usage.
“We need to do this at some point,” Bettencourt said, arguing that it’s only fair to attach the cost of those improvements to the services they provide. He’s shooting for a 10 percent increase in revenue with the new rates, which would add nearly $70 to an average residents’ annual water and sewer bills.
Peabody homeowners have been getting a bargain on their water and sewer bills under the existing rates when compared to other North Shore communities.
According to a statewide survey by the engineering firm Tighe & Bond, Peabody has the lowest water and sewer bills in Essex County and bills well below the state average.
The engineering firm has been compiling utility rates annually since 1997, using a variety of sources. The latest survey is from 2012.
Tighe & Bond’s survey shows that the average Massachusetts water bill was $498 in 2012, with Peabody at $306, and the average sewer bill was $690, compared to $410 in Peabody.
Bettencourt said he and his staff used that data to make comparisons with neighboring communities.
That analysis showed Peabody charges at least $250 below what Salem, Beverly or Danvers charges their residents on average for water and sewer.
Even with the proposed increase, Peabody ratepayers would still have significantly lower bills, he said.
Bettencourt informed city councilors during spring budget talks that he would be proposing new rates. Local revenue estimates in the fiscal year 2015 budget rely on the new rates to generate an additional $1.75 million from water and sewer.
The budgeted figure for sewer revenues is only $230,000 above actual 2014 revenue, but the city had initially budgeted about $1 million less than that.
The city charges an ascending rate for residential water usage between $2.44 and $2.90 per HCF (hundred cubic feet). One hundred cubic feet equals 748 gallons, and the average annual consumption for a homeowner is 120 HCF.
Sewer rates are structured similarly with residential rates ranging from $3.25 HCF to $3.58.
The city maintains separate commercial rates for both water and sewer.
You can reach John Castelluccio at 978-338-2527, email@example.com or via Twitter at @SNjcastelluccio.