The Select Board last week approved a combined 6.9 percent increase in Bedford water and sewer rates for the new fiscal year, translating to an additional $56 for the average residential customer using 6,000 cubic feet.
The change follows a 7.2 percent increase a year ago, although for the preceding three years the total increase was a little over 2 percent.
Driving the increase is a 10.3 percent hike in the sewer rate, thanks to a higher assessment from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, debt service, and rising maintenance costs. Increased use of a second meter solely for irrigating lawns also had an impact.
The water meter base cost of $24 and the basic water rate of $1.80 per 100 cubic feet, up to 2,000 cubic feet, do not change under the revisions. Beyond 2,000, the rate grows from $10.90 to $11,20 per 100 cubic feet, an increase of 2.8 percent.
Similarly, the sewer use rate up to 2,000 cubic feet increases 3.1 percent, from $3.20 to $3.30. Beyond that threshold, it rises 16.4 percent, from $14 to $16.30. There’s a base charge of $30.
“The two tiers provide a system that promotes a certain amount of conservation and stabilizes the low consumption users by minimizing rate increases,” Director of Public Works David Manugian told the board.
The rate approval also included a 10 percent increase for water purchased through irrigation meters, from $13.30 to $14.60 per 100 cubic feet. The base cost for the second meter is $48.
Manugian said water rates are calculated based on consumption and other system costs, such as personnel and debt. The increase in water and sewer rates also results from less usage, as “high volume residential customers continue to install irrigation meters,” according to a memorandum from Manugian and Finance Director David Castellarin.
Manugian explained on Thursday that a residential meter “measures water consumption and bills both water and sewer usage based on the metered water consumption. For those customers who use a lot of water that doesn’t go into the sewer system, primarily for irrigation, the second meter can be plumbed in and only bills for water, though at the higher rate.”
However, the reduced use measured by the primary meters means fixed costs are divided over a smaller consumption base, Manugian said. It doesn’t affect the sewer charge levied by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, since that is based on flow measured as it leaves the town.
Manugian also pointed out that the town does not limit water use, which is seen as an opportunity by some businesses. He noted that Hanscom Air Force Base sewer use is part of the town’s MWRA calculations; next year the offset is $568,182.
Castellarin acknowledged that about 9 percent of water and sewer bills turn out to be uncollectible, and the costs are borne by taxpayers.
Asked by board member Margot Fleischman about conversion from semi-annual to quarterly billing for water and sewer, Manugian said any change will wait until integration of the town’s new accounting software.