NOTE: The comments below were based on the originally proposed fees, not the rates proposed over the weekend before the hearing. LWVN did not have the opportunity to review those fees in time for public comment.
The proposed rates for water, sewer and stormwater are the result of tremendous efforts by city staff and aldermen, particularly Aldermen Deborah Crossley and Ruthanne Fuller. The goal of these changes is to create a fair means by which to pay for the upkeep of the infrastructure that provides us with safe water and prevents flooding.
LWVN supports full-cost pricing for water systems as a best practice for covering the costs of providing water and sewer services. We hope this will also provide an incentive to conserve this vital resource.
Despite the City’s efforts over the last few years to repair our water pipes, Newton still pays the MWRA for a large amount of water, which does not make its way to customers. Finding and repairing the leak(s) in order to reduce Newton’s percentage of unaccounted water (in line with other MWRA communities’), will be a critical investment and provide future savings. Thus, we support the new water & sewer block rates, which encourage water conservation while minimizing the burden on small users.
We also understand that the proposed stormwater rate increase is necessary to pay the estimated expenses in that system for FY2015-16. Newton needs to prevent nutrient and other pollutants from entering our water bodies, including Crystal Lake and the Charles River. This is important work, and includes repairing broken drainage lines to prevent future flooding.
The Weston & Sampson report before you identifies a scope of work that is critical to operations now and over the next 20 years but we still need a rational way to share the burden. About half of all impervious surfaces in this City are owned by all of us—our City buildings, our streets, tennis courts, parking lots, etc. All of us need a working stormwater system.
The jump in residential stormwater fees from $25-$75/year is substantial, but avoiding water pipe repairs, delaying measures to prevent flooding where we can, and mismanaging runoff before it carries pollutants to our water bodies can have much higher ultimate costs to Newton and its residents.
The commercial stormwater rates unfortunately perpetuate an unfair pricing structure that bills all businesses the same (regardless of its contribution to the problem). While this fee increase is needed in the short-term, we urge the city to continue moving with deliberate speed toward a fee system in which the tiers are adjusted according to the amount of impermeable surface on a property. We urge the administration to set the upper tiers of such a system high enough to be fair on a per-square-yard basis, and to create an incentive to implement stormwater mitigation measures that benefit everyone.
We support the proposed rates and we look forward to reviewing new proposals that use impervious surfaces as the basis for stormwater fees by the next fiscal year