Water Resources advisory board: No relief in sight on climbing bills

Julie Jette

Household water and sewer bills went up an average of 6.2 percent, or $63, in 2007 as a result of Massachusetts Water Resources Authority rate increases, according to an annual report.

The MWRA Advisory Board, which represents the 61 communities served by the MWRA, said average bills have increased by more than 6 percent in four out of the past five years.

Changes for individual towns varied widely; on the South Shore, Milton residents’ bills slightly decreased, while Randolph saw a 15.5 percent jump.

The water authority charges communities a wholesale rate for water or sewer service, and then cities and towns set residential rates. Since municipalities also have their own water and sewer projects and costs, those may be factored into the residential rate.

The MWRA also calculates its average bill differently from how cities and towns calculate theirs. The average sewer and water use varies greatly from town to town, and the MWRA does two calculations: One uses a national benchmark of 90,000 gallons a year, and one uses a community’s reported average use.

The annual survey typically becomes a rallying cry to include funds to reduce the authority’s debt in the state budget for the next fiscal year. The first version of the budget is typically released in January.

Last year, the Legislature approved about $23 million in spending to reduce the MWRA’s debt, sending another $2 million to pay for sewer projects funded by individual cities and towns. The MWRA carries enormous debt from projects undertaken to clean up Boston Harbor, and over the next nine years the authority will increase the amount it bills cities and towns by $334 million.

Joseph Favaloro, executive director of the MWRA Advisory Board, said he hopes the Legislature will allocate at least the same amount to reduce the agency’s debt, as it did last year.

Lawmakers are already talking about tight times in the fiscal year ahead. State Rep. Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, chairman of the Legislature’s MWRA caucus, said he isn’t sure whether lawmakers will keep funding steady for the MWRA to further drop its debt.

“I don’t know if we’ll be able to hold that number,” he said. “Through the history of this program, that number has fluctuated from $50 million to zero, depending on the economic times.”

Patriot Ledger writer Julie Jette may be reached at jjette@ledger.com.