The City Council, in the last meeting of this term, voted to send the sewer rate schedule back for reconsideration.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council unanimously acted on a petition Tuesday kicked the sewer rate schedule back to the administration to more accurately reflect the decreased costs for wastewater upgrade project.
"There is no reason to be stashing $20 million in the enterprise fund when it is not going to be spent on this project," Ward 4 City Councilor Christopher Connell said. "I think the ratepayers have suffered quite a bit ... we have the power to do this right now."
The city is under an administrative order by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency dating back more than a decade to lower the levels of phosphorous and aluminum in the water coming out of the plant. This project was estimated to cost $74 million, however, bids came in closer to $51 million.
The city hired Russell Consulting of Newburyport to calculate the rate and schedule for the next seven yeras based on the original $74 million but Connell, Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo, and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi submitted a petition that could change this.
Residents were already hit with the 50 percent increase this year and the average annual residential charge increased to $309.61 a year. If the city were to continue with the current rate structure, in 2025 the average bill would leap to $466.69.
Connell made his own suggestion and said instead of increasing the rate by 15 percent in 2021 and 12 percent in 2023, the city should eliminate the 2023 increase and split the remaining 15 percent increase between 2021 and 2022.
He added that he did not remember a consultant ever setting the city rates prior.
Connell said it was important that the council move on the petition that night because next year the council's make up will be different. He said the current 11 councilors attended the wastewater meetings and were involved in the discussions so should be the ones making the decision.
Mazzeo said the council needs to continue to be diligent and make sure rates are truly reflective of municipal costs.
"We have all of these things that we are going to be paying for and anytime we can bring these numbers back down in good faith it is absolutely what we should be doing," she said. "The 10 years I have been on this council I have seen very few times when we have actually gone back to look at something that comes in at a lower bid."
Morandi agreed and said the council should do whatever it can to offer residents relief.
"We have to look at what we just did last week. We gave the taxpayers of Pittsfield a nice Christmas present when we fought to get the tax rate down," Morandi said. "Our seniors are on fixed incomes and we have an aging population. We can at least give back and do the right thing."
In other business, the City Council:
Voted to hire James Ladd, Jessie Murray and Jacob Doyle to as police officers.
Voted to accept $15,275 in training funds from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security's State 911 Department.
Voted to accept $4128,076 in grant funds from the state Executive Office for Elder Affairs.
Accepted the updated Local Hazard Mitigation Plan and approved the placement of a stop sign on Delancy and Elberon avenues.