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Rate increases approved for water (5%) and sewer (3%)

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PEPPERELL — Water and sewer ratepayers can expect to see an increase in their bills starting in January, after the Board of Public Works approved increases of 5 percent for water rates and 3 percent for sewer.

“The DPW was very much aware of the struggles of residents during these trying economic times,” said DPW Director Robert Lee as he opened last week’s public hearing on water and sewer rates. “But the Water and Sewer divisions must have adequate revenues to maintain the services that the residents expect and demand and which the overseeing authorities require.”

Lee said that every effort is made to avoid wasting money, but “the DPW has no control over things such as material costs and energy costs and other variables that make rate increases necessary.”

Water and Sewer Superintendent Mark Richardson explained that unpaid bills and increased chemical costs were contributing factors in the increased rates. The amount of past-due accounts over 180 days has now exceeded $230,000 while chemical costs have increased from $37,000 to $95,000 per year.

“We’re going to have to tighten the belt,” said Richardson, who presented a 28-page document containing income and expense details for the two divisions.

Usage receipts showed a shortfall of $11,200 for water, and $47,100 for sewer during 2008, the figures showed. The plan for 2009 shows a shortfall of $104,200 for water and $7,200 for sewer.

“This is going to hurt,” Commissioner Greg Rice warned.

“A lot of it’s going be a roll of the dice,” said Richardson about the expected shortfalls in revenue, noting such variables as timely payment of bills.

Richardson also explained that water usage for the peak period of May through September in 2008 was 124,473,500 gallons compared to 160,404,900 gallons during the same period in 2007.

“We’ll have to Band-Aid it instead of replacing a piece of equipment before it dies,” Richardson said. “We’re just going have to keep it maintained until it does die.”

In other business, Lee announced that the 2008-2009 sewer and water extension project along Nashua Road had been completed, but noted some substandard work performed by the contractor.

“Frames and covers were so poorly installed,” said Lee.

The DPW also reached an agreement with the contractor to cover the cost of any trench settlement prior to the laying of the top course of asphalt next spring.

“The compaction tests basically confirmed that it did not meet compliance with the 95 percent requirement of the contract,” Lee said.

Bids for the remaining work on the sewer extension project are expected to go out on Jan. 20, with work starting in April.

* Highway Superintendent Peter Shattuck reported that his department is all set for winter operations. Highway equipment has already been out on the streets twice to salt and sand.

The department’s garage received its new emergency generator and fuel dispenser shut-off valve as part of the corrective actions following the safety audit from earlier this year.

* Lee reported that the Townsend Street water tank was recently inspected and found to be in good condition, but will receive a sedimentation cleaning in the spring.