Water and sewer rates are increasing, but
not as much as some City Councillors initially feared.
Most of the City’s residential water and
sewer customers will see an increase of 1 percent in rates for Fiscal Year
2020, and larger users will see a 4 percent increase.
In June, City Manager Thomas Ambrosino
presented the Council with a proposed three percent increase for water and
sewer customers who use less than 2,500 cubic feet of water. A 5 percent
increase was proposed for customers who use more than that amount.
In June, a number of Councillors spoke out
against the proposed increases.
“This is killing the poor people who live
here,” said District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero. “This is not only going to
drive the homeowners out, this is going to drive the tenants out, too. This is
a bad thing to go up this much.
Following a public hearing on the rates
earlier in July, Ambrosino and Public Works Commissioner Fidel Maltez discussed
concerns about rising sewer rates, according to a letter the City Manager sent
to the Council.
“Although rising rates are inevitable when
the majority of the City’s water and sewer costs are determined by charges from
the MWRA, and those charges rise each and every year, we are cognizant of the
City’s need to try to keep the rate increases moderate,” Ambrosino stated.
After looking at some of the recent
improvements to the water system in the past year, including the start of the
program to replace aging water meters throughout the system and better tracking
of water use by contractors, Ambrosino said he believes the City will be able
to reduce non-billable usage.
The City Manager said he also plans to
implement a better process for water and sewer rate-setting, beginning next
year. Those plans include a spring subcommittee meeting with the City Council
to present recommendations for water and sewer rates for FY21.
While the water and sewer rate increases are
lower than initially proposed, there will be a heftier price to pay for the
City trash rate with a 10 percent hike.
“For the past several years, we have been
running deficits in our trash accounting because the rate has not been
sufficient to cover the true cost of solid waste collection and disposal in the
City,” Ambrosino stated.
The 10 percent increase is an effort to
eliminate that deficit.
The new FY20
trash rate is $33.10 monthly for residential property and $156.15 monthly for
commercial units in mixed buildings. Owner-occupied units will remain exempt
from the fee.
The Essex Street Utility and Roadway
Improvement Project is set to start construction on July 8, and will encompass
Essex Street from Pearl Street to Highland Street, and Highland Street from Marginal
Street to Maverick Street.
Essex Street currently has utility lines
that date back to as old as 1906.
As utility infrastructure ages, the
integrity of the materials start to deteriorate which can cause utility breaks,
leaks and other issues. These problems can create above ground issues
such as sinkholes, settling, and cracking, which can make for difficult driving
which adds wear and tear on vehicles.
Essex Street currently has old brick sewer
mains with several broken sections that have allowed ground water to enter the
sewer system, and also allows sewage to seep into the ground. Groundwater is a
part of the ecosystem and should remain in the ground, not redirected into the
sewer system, City officials said. The sewer pipe is located under a large
water pipe (36 inches) owned by the MWRA, which makes it difficult to access
and maintain. The Essex Street project will replace sewer mains where possible,
and in hard to reach areas, it will place a structural liner that will
reinforce the existing pipe.
The project will entail sewer and service
replacements, water main abandonment with service transfers, new storm drain
installation, new concrete driveway aprons, new granite curbing, fresh new
concrete sidewalks, all new paving, new line stripping and pedestrian
Benefits of the project include:
•improved water pressure to fire hydrants;
•lead-free water service lines;
•new street trees which offer cooling during
summer months, and reduced risks of utility breaks.
completion, the improvements will give Essex Street and portions of Highland
Street a polished look and also provide long lasting utilities, the City said.
Lead pipes are often a hidden danger under the streets and sidewalks for a lot of families in Chelsea, but if the City
State Rep. Dan Ryan praised the program and congratulated
Chelsea in being proactive to replace lead service lines.
can help it, that danger will be removed one pipe at a time.
On Monday, the MWRA and the Clean Water Action Group awarded the City of Chelsea and GreenRoots for their early adoption of a program that removes, at no cost to the homeowner, lead water service lines while in the process of other infrastructure projects.
Part of that award included a $100,000 grant to help continue the program and remove more lead water lines as the City encounters them during paving or sidewalk repair programs.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said it is a common sense operation, but one that goes the extra step in replacing the line for free – as it usually is the responsibility of the homeowner to pay for the replacement.
“For the last year or more, as we’ve undertaken other construction projects on the streets, when we encounter a lead service line on the street, we are replacing it at no cost to the homeowner,” he said. “The MWRA grant helps ensure we will be able to continue to do that. We all want safe and clean drinking water and having clean water is elemental.”
Over time, lead can leach into drinking water, and studies have shown that lead is a neurotoxin and can affect cognitive abilities with repeated exposure. This is particularly dangerous for children and pregnant women.
“Chelsea is so proactive in doing this,” said MWRA Director Fred Laskey. “They are going through the inventory and going house to house and street to street to get rid of this problem. This is something that should serve as a model in how to prevent the scourge of lead in water. No other community has forged into this.”
Fidel Maltez of the Chelsea DPW said that more than 50 lines have been replaced so far under the program. Some of those were last year and came when they were working on street repairs, including to Shurtleff, Maverick, Clark, Crescent, Lawrence, Tudor and Webster Streets. This year, they will take on Essex Street and will be looking for lead water lines there too.
“Every project moving forward is going to identify and remove these lines with zero cost to the homeowner,” he said.
He said that any homeowner that thinks they might have a lead service line should contact the DPW at (617) 466-4200. They will send out a technician to verify if it is a lead pipe, and if it is, they will put it on a list for completion.