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Water, sewer rates on rise in Framingham Monday, July 4, 2005
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- A task force that will advise selectmen on the best way to handle its water and sewer rates starting in fiscal 2007 told its consultant last week to pay special attention to what goes on in apartments and condos.

Stephen Alcott will also examine more closely the town's rates, its tier rate structure that charges more for the heaviest users, the number of tiers, the break points and several other elements before reporting back to the group.

He expects to report back to the task force in a month or two, saying he has already done some preliminary research since the town brought him on in March.

"It really comes down to the particular community's values," said Alcott.  "That judgment is why we elect our officials, to make good decisions for the community."

The average Framingham homeowner will see an increase of about $80 in the next water and sewer bills after selectmen approved new rates and floated a plan to jack up the bills of those living in apartments.

The new rates boost combined water and sewer costs for the average homeowner by 11 percent for fiscal 2006, which started July 1.

The typical bill, according to town officials, will be about $842, up from $759, a jump that keeps Framingham well below prices among other communities that are part of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority's system.

Before approving the new rates, the board debated adopting a different rate structure that would have hit apartment buildings of five or more units with significantly larger bills.

Dennis Giombetti and Ginger Esty, who were recently added to the task force, both supported the change.

If the change had been approved, apartments with five units would have seen an increase of about $660, while 1620 Worcester Road, a 300-unit apartment building, would see the water and sewer bills jump by almost $400,000.

Single-family homeowners, meanwhile, would have seen their bills go up $7 instead of the $83 jump they now face.

Giombetti is interested to see what Alcott recommends. "I didn't get a feeling one way or the other what the outcome will be," he said.

The increasing rates are a combination of rising MWRA assessments and the town's investment in its own infrastructure.  The new combined water and sewer rate is $7.02 per unit, or 748 gallons of water.

Another key factor in the rate discussion is how aggressively the town wants to move forward on replacing decades-old pipes that have or will soon stop functioning properly.  Alcott said such decisions are tricky.

"Preventative maintenance is a hard sell," he said.  "A pipe is out of sight so it's often out of mind.  It's tough to tell someone you want to fix a pipe when there's still water running through it."

Giombetti wasn't ready to commit to a big rate increase to cover the cost of capital investments.

"We need to make sure we're investing in our assets, and infrastructure is one of the most important assets we have," he said.  "It's too early to tell how that all plays out."

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