DPW: At First Glance, No Increase In Water, Sewer Rates for Fiscal ‘23

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:

Massachusetts Department of Revenue

The Annual Flushing Of Belmont’s Fire Hydrants Continues Next Two Weeks

Photo: Ready to go

There is the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain while in Belmont there is the annual flushing of the town’s hydrants.

And while not as exciting as dodging a 1,000 kg animal on slippery cobble streets, the yearly flushing helps ensure water quality and helps avoid random bouts of rusty water if there is a high demand for water, caused by a major firefighting effort or water main break, according to Mark Mancuso, manager of the Belmont Department of Public Work’s Water Division.

Starting this week – Tuesday, Oct. 12 – from 7 p.m. to midnight, hydrants with green tops will be opened. This could cause water discoloration in the system. Don’t worry: The water is safe for drinking purposes but residents should avoid laundering during flushing hours. Next week beginning on Monday, Oct. 18, all yellow hydrants will undergo the flush.

Any questions regarding this program? Call the Belmont Water Division at 617-993-2700 for answers.

Annual Fire Hydrant Flushing Begins This Week

Photo: Flushing out the system.

Starting Monday, Aug. 3 through Friday, Aug. 7 from 7 p.m. to midnight, all street fire hydrants with green tops will be turned on to perform the annual flushing of the pipes. 

Mark Mancuso, water manager of the Belmont Water Division said in an email that operation will cause water discoloration in the system. Residents are asked to draw water for drinking purposes and avoid laundering during flushing hours. 

If there are any questions regarding this program, call the Belmont Water Division at 617-993-2700.

No Increase In Water,Sewer Rates (Again) As Monthly Billing Coming By Jan. 1

Photo: Water main being replaced by Belmont DPW

Belmont water and sewer customers will receive a nice surprise as rates for those services will remain steady for the upcoming 2021 fiscal year. This marks consecutive years for water and the third year in which sewer rates will not increase year over year.

And by the new year, customers will be paying those charges monthly as every customer has been fitted with an electronic measuring device.

Department of Public Works Director Jay Marcotte presented the rate proposal before the Select Board at its virtual meeting held Monday, May 11.

Marcotte noted the major cost driver pushing rates higher is due to the annual assessment of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which supplies the town with water and takes its sewage. The MWRA’s water and sewer assessment for fiscal ’21 increased by 1 percent, with most of that growth due to debt held by the agency. Nearly 48.3 percent of Belmont ratepayers water bill comes from the MWRA’s assessment, and 62.7 percent of the sewer payment. 

With the planned use of retained earnings to offset the increase, the rates will remain where they are for another year, said Marcotte. The average Belmont homeowner who uses about 3,000 cubic feet of water will see their quarterly bill remain at approximately $440 for fiscal 2021 that begins July 1, 2020.

And by January 2021, that bill will be coming to customers 12 times a year as opposed to quarterly. With the Smartmeter installation program now 99 percent complete, the department can institute monthly billing.

“We’re working with Belmont Light … to streamline and have one bill” going to customers both departments. While moving from a quarterly to monthly payment will likely increase the cost of mailing it out, “monthly billing is our number one ask by customers” as it will be easier for them in their own budgeting.

Marcotte told the board the DPW will continue its quarter-century water improvement program in which all of Belmont’s pre-1928 cast iron mains – which makes up 42 percent or 38 miles of the town’s total – will be replaced.

This year, about 6,970 linear feet of pipe will be removed which will be 31.4 miles of the pre-1928 mains replaced which will result in the program being 82.8 percent complete. Those streets include Chester, Hammond, Fletcher, Van Ness and Gorham.

With the town expected to transfer all its nearly $2 million pavement management line item for fiscal ’21 to balance the town-wide budget, Marcotte said his department will place a more durable temporary asphalt “patch” on the roadway.

The sewer budget will focus on water quality improvement, system upgrades and replacing two pump stations and a new station in the Winn Brook neighborhood with surcharge mitigation improvements.

Residents Give Good Tidings (and Coffee) to Town Crews Working Christmas

Photo: Brighton Street on Christmas Eve.

It was already a cold and dank Christmas Eve afternoon as the sun was setting on two crews from Belmont Water Department’s Distribution and Maintenance services.

After spending hours digging up Brighton Street next to the Hill Estates seeking a major water main leak, the workers discovered the break was not in the 10-inch main but a six-inch pipe – bearing the date “1888” – on the other side of the street.

“It occasionally happens that our best guess is wrong,” said Mike Bishop, the Department of Public Works’ Water Division manager on Tuesday, Dec. 27. It would mean filling in the first trench and dig a new one in the dark hours before Christmas.

Around the same time, homeowners on Washington Street called the town to report a “geyser” of water was gushing out of a manhole cover directly across from the entry of the Chenery Middle School.

‘That turned out to be an eight-foot long slit in a 10-inch main,” said Bishop, likely caused by air in the system introduced into the pipe from recent work along Common Street.

“That pocket of air was just looking for a weak point in the system,” said Bishop.

Two major breaks at the same time which just happened to be on Dec. 24th.

“Unfortunately we can’t predict when these will happen. We just have to send the crews out and get the job done,” said Bishop.

As the employees began breaking up the street for the second time, word got out among those living on Pond Street, Hill Road and Brighton Street of those workers preparing for a long night to provide town services.

First one, then another and still more came by to drop off coffee, pastries, food and a “thank you” to the half-dozen or so digging for a pipe in the dark. The Brighton Street work was completed just before St. Nick flew into Belmont around midnight.

When the crews came to make the repairs on Washington in the late morning of Christmas Day, residents from around the site stopped to wish them Merry Christmas and leave off gifts of food and drinks.

For Bishop, the response of residents was gratifying.

“It was phenomenal,” he said of the gestures of good will.

“It’s the little things that go a long way for the crews,” said Bishop, who used social media to thank the town folks.

“Sometimes [the employees] don’t see how appreciated their work is. But this one time that [residents] just coming by did a lot of good.”

Automated ‘Smart’ Water Meters in Belmont By 2020

Photo: A typical automated water meter.

You can do your banking, book a vacation and buy your groceries with your smartphone. So, the town of Belmont want to know, why not pay a monthly water bill while monitoring your water usage all via the same phone?

By 2020, Belmont residents will have that option as the Water Division of the town’s Department of Public Works replaces the old manual-recorded meters currently in use with “smart” meters over the next three years. The new meters will be installed at no cost to consumers.

The plan, announced by DPW chief Jay Marcotte at Board of Selectmen’s meeting, Monday, March 28, will piggyback existing technology created by Belmont Light in its metering system, reading data via radio frequencies. 

The $2.75 million project – paid through the Water Division’s retained earnings – will take between 12 to 18 months to implement as contractors install between 20 to 30 new meters each business day, said Marcotte.

Other communities are moving towards wireless reading including Melrose, Lincoln, Wellesley and Woburn. 

The advantage of using 21st-century technology in recording utility usage is “a no-brainer,” said Mike Bishop, Water Division manager. For his department, it will bring efficiencies such as reading meters from a central location rather than sending meter readers to each residence or business. It will also be used as an “early warning system” to identify possible leaking pipes when a spike in usage levels.

For customers, it will allow for monthly billing which will provide resident and commercial users more reliable data on water consumption.

“It will allow our customers to do things like creating ‘red flags’ in which the meter will inform you if you exceed a certain usage level for a specific month. You then will be able to monitor a history of what you are using on your smartphone which will improve conservation of water in town,” said Bishop. 

Water Main Break Halts Traffic on Brighton/Blanchard, Repair by 4 PM

A major water main broke around 9 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 10, on the north side of Brighton Street at the commuter rail tracks, causing the closure of an important cross town thoroughfare.

Belmont Police detoured traffic off of Blanchard Road from Concord Avenue to the commuter tracks and Brighton Street to Vale Road and the tracks to allow Department of Public Work crews to remove and repair the pipe that spewed water onto the roadway for a short time.

“We found a major crack in the pipe so it had to be removed and a new section cut at the DPW yard,” said Mark Mancuso, operations manager of the DPW’s Water Division.

There was some concern from the MBTA the water from the leak could freeze onto the commuter rail tracks, said Mancuso. That problem did not materialize, he added.

Mancuso said the pipe should be replaced and the road reopened by 4 p.m.


Dig It Up: Water Main Work Begins This Monday

On the heels of Belmont naming 11 dilapidated roads to be reconstructed this year comes another list of streets, only this one highlights roads to be dug up.

This Monday, July 28, the Water Division of the Belmont Department of Public Works will begin water main replacement work on 10 byways in town, with the work lasting until Nov. 15.

The streets include:

  • Charles Street
  • Edward Street
  • Orchard Street from Common to Beech streets
  • Winthrop Street
  • Warwick Road
  • Garden Street
  • Holt Street
  • Somerset Street from Pleasant Street to Shady Brook Lane
  • Wellington Lane
  • Richmond Road

The infrastructure work – to replace aging mains to provide “an ample volume of high quality drinking water … and improve water pressures throughout the town,” according to a DPW press release – will take place Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

As with any water main work, residents will experience service disruptions during the construction process. Homeowners and businesses will be provided with at least 24-hour notification of all planned water main shutdowns, where water service will be interrupted for a period longer than two hours.

The water system improvements will require some residences to have water supplied through a temporary above ground water main until the new main is complete.

Questions relating to the project or schedule should be directed to the Belmont Water Division at 617-993-2700, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday or by calling Water Division Construction Supervisor Dave Powers at 617-438-2079.

Project updates can be found on the Department of Public Works Water Division web site. http://belmontma.vt-s.net/dpw-water-division.