|I am writing in support of the recently implemented Longmeadow water and sewer rate system. I believe that the voters of Longmeadow should support this revised rate structure. |
My support for the rate structure falls into the following four categories which will be explained in detail:
1: Maintaining a very low cost for basic utilities usage is consistent with the housing requirements established within Longmeadow.
2: Higher usage customers require higher infrastructure (delivery) costs than do lower usage customers, and it is therefore justified that they pay a greater share of the burden. Water costs are more than the price per cubic foot we pay Springfield.
3: A rate structure based on usage that encourages conservation of resources is a well established practice in society and in Longmeadow.
4: The water and sewer rates should assure the long range capital needs of the water and sewer infrastructure, not be limited to the current year.
I temper my comments only by the assertion that the implementation of any revised water and sewer rate schedule must be accompanied by a comprehensive review and the implementation of a policy for the use of the retained earnings that are generated from these utility fees. Without such a policy, the justification for charging more than the actual cost of the water/sewer services will continue to be subject to second guessing. The Town of Longmeadow needs to determine if water and sewer services and infrastructure will be a self funding program, or if we will continue to be schizophrenic, using water and sewer income for some system (and capital items') needs, but general funding for larger system projects (such as the current Wenonah Road rebuild project).
The details behind my four reasons for supporting the proposed rate structure are as follows:
1: Maintaining a very low cost basis for basic utilities usage is consistent with the housing requirements established within Longmeadow. A basic level of water and sewer usage is not optional. Longmeadow requires homes to be connected to the municipal water and sewer system (where available) in order to occupy the building. Homeowners cannot "opt out" of water and sewer hook-ups. One could argue that water usage for sanitary purposes is a "basic service" of the town, much like trash disposal, or police service and therefore this base level of service must be provided at the most affordable level or perhaps even rolled into base property taxes.
2: Higher usage customers require higher infrastructure (delivery) costs than do lower usage customers, and it is therefore justified that they pay a greater share of the burden. Water costs are more than the price per cubic foot we pay Springfield. Longmeadow's water infrastructure consists of a tower, pumps, pipes and valves to deliver that water to customers' locations. If all the customers in Longmeadow were low volume users, the system would have been designed for a much lower capacity than it is. The pumps, pipes and valves that are installed (and expensively maintained) are sized as they are because of the large (institutional) users in town. Without these larger users the costs of the water infrastructure would be much lower. It is NOT true that it costs us less per cubic yard of water to deliver 200 cu. yds. than to deliver 100 cu. yds. A pump that delivers larger quantities costs more to purchase and more to maintain, and the pipe that delivers larger quantities costs more to purchase and more to replace. It is only fair that those customers whose higher usage puts a greater burden on the storage and delivery infrastructure pay a high cost for that infrastructure.
3: A rate structure based on usage that encourages conservation of resources is a well established practice in society and in Longmeadow. Society's objectives are best set through legislation or fee structures. The argument that our (currently) ample supply of water does not require that we encourage conservation is inappropriate. Whether through government legislation of vehicle fuel economy standards, or our local limitation on trash quantities, the encouragement of conservation using an escalating rate structure is both appropriate and justified.
4: The water and sewer rates should assure the long range capital needs of the water and sewer infrastructure, not be limited to the current year. One of the arguments against the rate structure expressed by a consultant hired by several institutional users in town was that the excess monies raised by this new rate structure exceed the FY 2008 water and sewer capital budget. It is in fact more likely that even with this new rate structure, the retained earnings funds for water and sewer may not be sufficient to meet the needs for the next 10 years of the aging Longmeadow water and sewer infrastructure. Even the consultant's report indicated that the unmetered losses of water are large an indication that system infrastructure improvements are required. The use of retained earnings funds to finance major, as well as minor, water and sewer capital needs should be a goal of the rate structure.
In summary, I would encourage the Select Board to allow this water and sewer rate change to remain as is. None of us like our utility bills to increase (and mine increased substantially). However, if the town is going to continue to pursue a policy that segregates water and sewer income from tax receipts, either to operate these services as self sufficient departments or as sources of additional town income, then all of the costs associated with water and sewer supply, deliver and infrastructure maintenance should be included in those segregated departments.
I have listed four reasons that the current rate system should be retained. Any one of these is on its own sufficient support for the current rate structure. Together I would hope that they provide compelling reasons to keep this system in place until the town can identify the true long term needs of the water and sewer systems. Only if such a comprehensive capital needs review indicates that funds are not needed should the rates be reduced. Simultaneously, the town can (and should) document the added burden that higher volume users put on the infrastructure so that decisions are fact, not emotionally driven.
Mark P. Gold