In a 3-2 vote Tuesday, Stoughton, Mass. increased water rates to help the town pay for its newly approved connection to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority system. The chairman of the Board of Selectmen, Dennis Johnson, and member Gerald Goulston opposed the increase. The new rates take effect tomorrow.
Under the rate plan - which was suggested by Wayland-based utility consultant Christopher Woodcock - average Stoughton water users will see little change in their bills. In some cases, bills will actually decrease, Woodcock said. But larger families who use more water and commercial and industrial users will face substantial water bill increases.
Town officials said the average person uses 500 cubic feet of water per quarter. A single-person household should expect a decrease of 13 percent, or $2.64, in its quarterly bill of $17.74, Woodcock said. An average family - 2,500 cubic feet of water - will see a quarterly rate increase of 9.3 percent, or $5.21, in its quarterly bill of $61.34.
But a residence that uses 7,500 cubic feet of water will see a bill increase of 50.7 percent, making an average quarterly bill of $242.84, Woodcock said. Many commercial and industrial users face similar jumps.
''As you use more water, you pay more,'' explained Town Manager Jeanne Fleming. The new water rates will go into effect tomorrow, at the start of the new fiscal year.
Johnson wanted selectmen to delay rate changes until they know how much revenue Stoughton will generate as a result of new water hook-ups to the MWRA system. The town has about 1,700 well users, he said, each of whom will be charged a $2,500 MWRA connection fee if they choose to join the system. If just a one-third of well users signed on, the town could bring in about $1.4 million, Johnson said. Woodcock said it's not realistic to expect so many well users will sign on in the coming fiscal year.
Goulston said he opposed the new rates because selectmen didn't have time to review the information before voting. The board received a finalized water rate plan from Woodcock on the day of their meeting.
Earlier this month, the MWRA board of directors voted to make Stoughton a member of the district to help the town deal with its long-standing water problems. The MWRA is a public authority that was created in 1984 to provide wholesale water and sewage services to about 2.5 million people in metropolitan Boston. Other local member towns include Norwood and Milton. Westwood, Dedham, Holbrook, and Randolph use the MWRA sewer services; Canton uses sewer and partial water services.
The connection will cost the town $5 million over 20 years, said Superintendent of Public Works Larry Barrett. He said the hook-up will provide a much-needed backup for Stoughton's water supply, which comes from six wells.
Town Engineer James Miller has said the town has been under a water emergency since 1987, with demand for water often exceeding supply. Stoughton has about 7,300 homes and businesses that use town water, said Fleming.
As a result of the project, 4.4 miles of underground water line will be constructed through Canton to connect Stoughton to the MWRA system. A number of streets and sidewalks in Canton will be dug up during the construction. Stoughton is set to pay Canton $1.8 million in mitigation costs. Work is expected to be completed by Jan. 1.
Stoughton will have to pay about $837,000 annually for its MWRA connection, a combination of fees, financing, and other construction costs. The rate increase will help Stoughton cover that expense, town officials said.
Before the meeting, about a dozen local residents - holding handmade signs that called for ''No More Fees!'' - waved to passersby outside Town Hall. The residents are part of the newly formed ''Taxpayers Action Group of Stoughton'' group, said Ed Coppinger, who's lived in town for four years. Protesters said they are angry that trash, bus and athletic fees were implemented after a $2.7 million Proposition 21/2 override failed in April.
Inside the meeting, Selectman Dick Levine addressed speculation about massive water rate increases.
''The hysteria that's been circulating around town ... is totally a fallacy,'' he said.
Also on Tuesday night, selectmen unanimously voted against raising town sewer rates.