Friday, October 12, 2018

Water and Sewer Rates

I sent the following written testimony to Mayor Spicer regarding the water and sewer rate setting process that is currently underway.

Dear Mayor Spicer,

I am writing to offer written testimony, as invited, on the FY 2019 sewer rates and by inference the water rates.  At this time you are in the same situation the City Council will be  later this month regarding the tax rate.  There  are few rate options, as the revenue must support the budget.  The only time we can truly impact rates is when we develop and approve the spending plans, both operations and capital.

Often it is pointed out that Framingham has spent a great deal of money on capital infrastructure..  Sometimes when this has been discussed it has been made to sound like it just started, but it is really a decade and a half old.  That distinction is important because though perhaps in the past the system maintenance has been neglected, that is the somewhat distant past at this point.

I have great respect for the goals that Director Peter Sellers and his staff have accomplished. They have brought us a long way and done some very impressive projects, but we cannot continue to build at this pace or our rates will not be affordable.  Instead, we must maintain the system and continue to gradually replace it.  We must recognize that we can’t address 100 years of issues in 20 years, otherwise, we will put a large cost on one generation of rate payers.

If we are to have any real rate relief we are going to have to slow our capital program as that is what is primarily driving the rate increase.  Further, like all departments we must look to achieve efficiency in operations. Although the current rate proposal is a relatively modest rate increase of 2%, it is not reflective of the real increase in cost.  The rate increase is being mitigated by retained earnings, but once that source of funds is used, the rates will grow even faster. We will have to make up for the one time revenue being utilized now, and account for future cost increases.  

I appreciate the context you have tried to put the rates in. The idea water is a bargain compared to cable TV and other utilities may be true.  I have also seen the examples of how our rates compare favorably to other MWRA communities.  Nevertheless, I do not believe it tells the whole story.  People can’t decide to do without water.  I cannot immediately name any other life necessity, even health insurance in most instances, that has doubled in a decade.  We have to recognize the impact this has on many many residents and commit to slow this rapid rise.

Controlling the growth of expenditure is what controls the rates, and honestly that starts with the Mayor’s office. As the executive we need your  leadership to control expenditures as you author the budget, otherwise it can’t happen.  If you take the initiative I pledge as a councilor to support your efforts.  I am truly hopeful when we see your capital budget in a couple of weeks, and your operating budget in six months, we will see the beginning of water and sewer rate control.  It is a critical need for our community.

Thank you for your consideration of my input.