Archive 2008 - 2019

Water Rates: Bad News and REALLY Bad News

by William Dowd

The REALLY bad news is that 15% is not nearly enough to either cover current costs or provide for needed pipe replacements. 

First, the costs used by the Water Commissioners in setting these rates did not take into account approximately $32,000 in retiree health insurance benefits attributable to Water employees. I’m not sure why it was missed, but it was.

Second, the Water Surplus, from which the Water Department draws for big repairs and other unexpected expenses, has been drawn down way below historic levels. Again, I don’t know yet all the reasons why this happened, but it did. Even at a 15% increase, the Water Surplus will remain well below historic levels for all of FY14. The Board had originally planned to implement a 9% rate increase, but changed to 15% after rethinking Water Surplus following my e-mail to them on June 19. 

Third, and most significantly, there is nothing in the new rates to deal with replacement of any of the over 50 miles of old and failing pipes. The Water Department’s current plan is to just fix the breaks when they occur and deal with the bigger problem later. It’s like we know the engine and transmission in our car is shot, but we’re going to keep putting new tires, brakes and exhaust on it because its cheaper than getting a new one.

In their defense, the Water Commissioners have been focusing on the supply side of water operations; wells, treatment and storage. These have been lengthy, complex and costly undertakings. However, to not be putting forth a plan and financial impact statement on this huge an issue is a disservice to ratepayers.

And to their credit, the Department has completed several metering improvements that lowered cost and improved the accuracy of billing. 

But the reality is that as high as you might think our water rates are right now, maintaining a modern, reliable water supply AND distribution network will require either sizable rate increases, property tax increases, or both. We have kicked this can down the road for a very long time. Government is great at that. It’s time for the Water Commissioners to get serious about this and put forth a reasonable, thorough, and thoughtful plan. It may be hard, and it may be very unpopular, but having lots of healthy wells and top-notch treatment without the ability to reliably and efficiently deliver it to users will be nothing to crow about.

 And whether you pay for water, pay property taxes or both, prepare for a jolt!


NOTE: The author is a member of the Finance Committee. The views expressed in this article are his alone, and should be attributed in any way to the Finance Committee.

Comments (6)

So we can now move forward towards a solution to the town water supplies. I disagree 100% to adopting or employing a DPW. We must keep this department in house and PRIVATE. The last thing we need to do is introduce another costly bureaucracy that we have no control over and that will raise rates and costs over time. WE CAN DO IT FROM WITHIN OUR TOWN and with the people in this town. I am happy to see discussion on the topic.

Sean | 2013-07-15 12:38:05

The amount of money to fix this problem would bankrupt holliston

Alan stone | 2013-07-15 11:58:34

Understand your point Dianna, I believe other materials are available too that are totally safe and used in the mid west. My point is that the water department has never investigated any of these ideas and is just dismissive of them. All the while doing nothing to act on the eventual replacement of the pipes.

Mark Schultz | 2013-07-13 12:54:08

HR has received some insightful comments from a Jack Stranton. Mr. Stranton's email address is fictitious and/or he does not exist. Therefore his comments will not be published per our policy.

Publisher | 2013-07-13 05:04:37

PVC sleeves would be a good idea, except PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is a known human carcinogen and the pipes can leach toxins into the water (heavy metals, plasticizers, phthalates, etc.) PVC is hazardous to manufacture and dispose of. I would not recommend using PVC at all. HDPE seems better.

Dianna Vosburg | 2013-07-12 13:59:59

Over the last 10 years or so there has been a systematic plan to raise water rates so that the surplus will be maintained. During that time a number of things have come to the forefront. Some have been addressed, some have not. The Water Department has gotten a lot better in using the funding available to them and returning unexpended funds to the surplus. However, they can still do better. There is still a problem with a significant amount of water that "disappears" from the system each year. It is lost via leakage and to date the source of this leakage is unknown. Not only does it cut into the amount we can use from the Charles River Watershed, but it is also lost revenue. Regarding the pipe replacement. This has been kicked down the road for at least 15 yrs. Twelve years ago I proposed a 2% surcharge on each bill to form a restricted fund for the pipe replacement. It would have a small impact on rates and build a way to finace the replacement pipes that will have to be done. No board of water commissioners has acted on it. I also proposed a system of inserting PCV "sleeves" inside existing pipelines (on straight sections). This would cut replacement costs by up to 75% in some areas and significantly extend the lifetime of those pipelines. Again no action. Long term planning has not been a hallmark of our water department. These problems can and should be dealt with. The time is long past for action to start. However it appears that only a crisis will get them to take action. Actions that will cost a lot more than it should have, if they had put in place a plan long ago. This is why I am a strong supporter of a town DPW. The current system regarding the water department is not working nearly as well as it could and needs to be addressed.

Mark Schultz | 2013-07-12 06:32:16