Photo: Water and sewer rates are likely to stay where they are into fiscal ‘23.
While inflation has reached seven percent over the past 12 months, Belmont property owners will likely have some good news when it comes to the water and sewer rates for the next fiscal year. And that change is no change for the fourth year – as the Director of the Department of Public Work reported to the Select Board on Monday, Jan. 24.
DPW head Jay Marcotte told the board based on discussions with Town Administrator Patrice Garvin and Town Accountant Glen Castro and the current view of the budgets and the level of retained earnings, “we’re potentially looking at another zero percent for [water and] sewer rates.”
The water and sewer rates are traditionally voted on by the Select Board in late March or April when each line item is based on hard and true numbers, said Belmont Select Board Chair Adam Dash.
In terms of the water budget as of the last week in January, the department’s biggest expense – the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority assessment to the town for supplying water which accounts for 43 percent of the budget – is anticipated to fall by approximately five percent from last year’s $3,336,000 valuation, a marked reduction from the nearly 10 percent increase for fiscal ‘22.
”It’s not official yet we are still waiting on the official document [which is delivered in early March] … but from circles of people we know at the MWRA, that’s the estimated number,” said Marcotte. In addition, there is a reduction of $62,850 in MWRA loan payments – now at $854,200 – as the town continues to pay down that line item.
As for the Water Department’s big ticket items in the coming year, the department will spend $250,000 to continue its multi-decade water main project while parceling out $169,000 for equipment replacement.
At the end of January, the water department fiscal ‘23 budget grand total comes in at $7,838,000, up by 1 percent with the department using last year’s MWRA assessment as a placeholder.
”So basically the water budget’s flat when you do all the pluses and minuses,” said Select Board Chair Adam Dash.
Unlike the water budget, sewer “is a different animal … with a variety of pressures,” said Marcotte, including a higher MWRA assessment, larger debt load and far more regulations that puts pressured on expenses.
“There are just more costs associated with sewer,” said Marcotte, pointing to the department needing to transfer $600,000 to the Community Development Office allocated for the town’s sewer and stormwater improvement plan so the town remains in compliance with the federal and state departments of environmental protection.
The MWRA’s sewer assessment is expected to increase by 4.5 percent, said Marcotte. The grand total for sewer in fiscal ‘23 is currently $10,806,000, an increase of $356,500 or 3.8 percent.
The saving grace for residents is the significant level of retained earning for both entities enterprise funds: Marcotte reported that certified retained earning for water is $2,810,724 and $2,894,974 for sewer.
”We try every year to balance the retained earnings and how much we use … to offset rates and that’s why we’ve been lucky enough for the last four years to not have a rate increase,” said Marcotte.
A definition of retained earnings is below: