The town of Pittsfield is nearing final approval for a 48% increase to water rates, which would be the first such increase in more than a decade. 

The proposed increase was first discussed June 1 at a public hearing during a Pittsfield Town Council meeting. At that time, Annaleis Hafford, vice president at Olver Associates, the company that serves as the operator for Pittsfield’s water and sewer systems, gave a presentation on the rate increase and said that, while it is a large number, the hike is needed to maintain the water system that serves 1,088 customers. 

“It is a 48% increase, but that is really what it is going to take to raise sufficient revenue to run the water department in a satisfactory manner,” Hafford said. 

The new rates use the same rate design as the old system, Hafford said. And the increase will be the same 48% for each individual customer, regardless of if they are considered residential, commercial or industrial. The last rate increase was in 2009. 

For the average homeowner with the typical 5/8-inch meter, the minimum charge for 9,000 gallons of water usage would increase $19.30 per billing quarter, increasing from $40.20 to $59.50. 

Because customers are billed quarterly, not monthly, residents can expect the first bill after the increase to have a split rate. For example, the cost for July would be under the old, lower rate, while August and September would be charged to the higher rate. 

Town Manager Kathryn Ruth said that any customers who have difficulty paying the bill should reach out to the Town Office for assistance.  

Even with the increase, Pittsfield’s water rates are similar to or lower than other towns in the area, Hafford said. For comparison, Pittsfield’s quarterly rate after the increase will be $59.50, while nearby Clinton’s is $70.76 — although Clinton serves fewer customers. Lincoln serves a similar number of customers, and its quarterly rate is $65.21. 

“I still think that the rates will be very fair here, and I know that’s the goal,” Hafford said. 

Hafford said the department developed a model to predict what the rate increase would mean for revenue. Using the model, current revenue for the department is $397,710. The rate increase will boost revenue by $212,249, bringing it to a total of $609,959.  

Under the new rate system, the cost for public fire protection will also increase from $115,000 to $184,147, a 60% increase. The cost of that comes from the Public Utilities Commission, Hafford said, not from the number of fire hydrants in town.

As for the next steps for the rate increase, Olver Associates must submit it to the utilities commission for approval. According to a legal notice presented by the town, customers can prompt a review of the rate change if 15% of the town’s customers file a petition with the town and the commission by July 1. 

The commission has a formula to calculate how much a town must pay for public fire protection. Although the formula calculates Pittsfield’s contribution to be 39% of the town’s gross revenue, the PUC also caps all communities at 30%, which is what the town will be assessed.

That cost won’t be felt right away, because the town has not budgeted for that cost in its current budget. Instead, for August through December, Pittsfield will pay the old cost which has been budgeted for, and will have to pay the difference for those months next year. 

The rate increase will allow the water department to tackle a variety of maintenance and improvement projects. 

For example, the two wells that provide the water for the town both need to be rehabilitated, Hafford said at a public hearing on the rate increase. Over time, small pieces of rock accumulate in the wells and clog up the pipes, making it more difficult for the pumps to draw out the water. Rehabilitating the wells would clean out those pieces of rock so that water can be pulled out more easily. 

There is other maintenance that needs to be done, including leak detection and repairs, hydrant repair and replacement, treatment system and well reliability improvements and water tank inspection and rehabilitation. 

“There are things that need to be done, and it’s obvious when you have leaks — like we have right now — that stuff needs to be paid attention to and we need to do the right thing,” Hafford said.  

The rate increase was originally planned for last year, but the process slid to a halt when the pandemic hit, and the town didn’t want to do it too soon, as residents were already facing financial hardship, according to Ruth.  

“We held off until this year, but there are improvements that need to be made and projects that need to be done and so we want to move forward to do that,” Ruth said. 

Ruth also said that the town mailed notices of the rate increase to customers and the town office did not hear back with any complaints from customers. 

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