Residents will see modest water, sewer rate increases
The Select Board met last night with all members present.
After a routine change-of-manager request for the 99 restaurant, the Select Board heard from Town Manager Richard Montuori on the enterprise fund budgets and capital improvement plans.
An enterprise fund is an accounting and financial reporting mechanism used for municipal services where a fee is charged for goods or services, such as water or sewer. Tewksbury also has enterprise funds for telemedia and stormwater. The benefit of this model versus a general fund is that residents pay for the services they use, and it allows for greater oversight and accumulation of capital so the town does not have to borrow to fund improvements.
Town meeting retains oversight of these budgets and must approve capital projects.
The Telemedia Enterprise Fund Budget covers equipment, maintenance and operations for programs and broadcasting on the town’s public access television and YouTube channels. It’s funded by Comcast and Verizon franchise fees of about $620,000, an amount Montuori sees decreasing.
“I think the cable industry in the future is going to see a downturn in revenue,” he said. “Most people are moving off of cable and Verizon.”
A surplus set aside will allow the town to continue services even as that revenue declines.
Chair Todd Johnson pointed out that the quality of broadcasts has improved significantly and commended the Tewksbury Telemedia team. Member Mark Kratman asked whether improvements can be made to the sound system at the biannual Town Meetings; Montuori will look into what can be done.
The overall Water Enterprise Fund Budget will increase by $710,322 for FY24. That will help pay for about $28 million in capital improvements to the town’s water distribution and treatment systems.
Tewksbury’s water distribution network comprises 160 miles of water main and three storage tanks. The town had planned to replace about two miles of aged cement and cast iron water mains per year, at a cost of about $300 per linear foot. That replacement rate can now increase due to the use of less-expensive and more available PVC pipes.
“We’re planning to be more aggressive in our approach to water distribution, design and improvement,” said Montuori. “The plan is to undertake three miles of installation per year. That’s up from a little over a mile that we’re doing each year.”
Tewksbury averages a dozen service leaks and 36 water main breaks annually. The town will devote all $9.3 million of its ARPA funds to this infrastructure, in line with the Select Board’s prioritization of clean, dependable water.
“Residents give us that feedback,” said Johnson. “They’re calling to say we have concerns because we have water main breaks, and we have brown water.”
The only way that will be corrected is through the planned upgrades.
The distribution portion of the town’s Water Enterprise Fund will increase by $200,000, largely to upgrade meters so that residents don’t need to deal with estimated bills.
Streets scheduled for new lines include Cleghorn Lane, Hood Rd., Trull Brook Lane, Victor Dr. and Hill St. as well as the Beech St. and other South Tewksbury neighborhoods.
The average homeowner will see a bump of between $22 and $55 annually in FY24. This will be only the second increase in five years; Montuori says the costs for water treatment chemicals and distribution have increased significantly over the past few years.
In response to a question from Kratman on how rates compare with surrounding towns, Montuori pointed out that there are many variables; for example, in some towns, rates are subsidized by taxes.
“We’re an all-in enterprise fund,” he said. “In other communities, that’s not the case. You could do $5 million worth of debt on water projects, and half of that’s on the tax levy. So their water rate is lower than ours — until you dig in.”
The MWRA average for 90,000-gallon users is $717 versus $911 for Tewksbury. Johnson reiterated that water has been a top priority for the Select Board, and that rates must fund the work that’s required.
“It’s always wise to challenge ourselves to do better, if we can,” he said. “At least from my perspective, it’s not about ‘are we a lower rate than another community.’ I don’t believe that’s what residents want. They want to turn on their taps and have the best quality water that meets their needs.”
The Sewer Enterprise Fund Budget appropriation will increase by about $400,000, mostly for an increased assessment from Lowell. No capital projects are planned.
Sewer rates will increase in FY24 for the first time in five years; most households will see a bump of between $9 and $22. Eighty percent of potential users are connected to town sewer.
The MWRA average sewer fee is $1,102 versus $833 for Tewksbury.
The Stormwater Enterprise Fund fee will not increase from the current flat $75 for most residential units. Montuori says the town has been successful in getting grants to do stormwater improvements.
Capital investment proposals that will be presented at Town Meeting include:
- A new ambulance and related equipment
- A new fire engine and related equipment
- New bleachers for the Livingston St. football field
- Lights for Obden field at Livingston St.
- A TMHS studio upgrade
- A new elevator and cameras at the police station
- Drainage improvements
- Water treatment plant updates
- Sidewalk installations and design
- Paving on about 11 miles of roadway, often aligned with water main replacements
These will be funded by Community Preservation Act (CPA), Chapter 90 and the relevant enterprise funds.
Next up, the board approved requests to authorize 13 firefighters to pick up shifts as part-time traffic control officers. Massachusetts passed a law in 2008 that was meant to allow private-sector companies to staff traffic details, but various exemptions, union contracts and wage laws that tie rates to police earnings mean municipal employees generally work these details.
All requests were approved unanimously.
The board then reviewed finalized retail marijuana regulations that were ironed out in last week’s executive session.
“We’re going to ask the town manager and his staff to send correspondence to any known retail marijuana interested party who has held a community meeting or has otherwise reached out to town officials to make us aware that they are contemplating or interested in pursuing a license,” said Johnson. “The intention of that letter is to advise these individuals that they should file for a site plan review before the Planning Board as soon as possible.”
The Select Board won’t consider a retail sales license application without a list of documentation that includes a narrative about compatibility of the proposed location with adjacent neighborhoods; the desired area of town; traffic, parking and other impacts; a schedule detailing when the proposed business would open; and a business plan, financial records, and other documents “demonstrating strong capitalization and likelihood of successful operation over the long term.”
Applicants must also explain why their proposal should be selected over others and have that successful site plan review with the Planning Board.
In other words, half-baked proposals are unlikely to succeed.
Once an approval is in hand, the applicant has six months to get sign-off from the Cannabis Control Commission. One extension is possible, though not guaranteed. Allowable sales hours are Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays 2 to 6 p.m.
“Assuming the known entities execute and follow up, this board will, in the near term, consider the first round of applications,” said Johnson.
In board member reports, member Jayne Wellman shared that:
The Tewksbury Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee kicked off its Black History Month movie series last week with “Harriet.” The next installment, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” will be shown at the TMHS auditorium on Thursday, Feb. 23 at 6 p.m.
The Front Line initiative applied for and received a grant from Winchester Hospital to fund a new program called “Building LGBTQ+ Community Visibility and Resiliency.” In partnership with the TDEIAC and the Tewksbury Council on Aging, a series of workshops and evidence-based trainings will be held. The first step is listening sessions to help the committee and Front Line set smart goals.
“One session is entirely online and the other is in-person, coming up in March,” said Wellman.
See flyers for both events below.
Finally, Wellman discussed issues with the wood floor at the new Center Elementary School gym, where excessively dry air has caused some separation of the boards.
“The designer and the OPM and the construction firm are well aware that we’re not going to pay for changes to repair that floor,” she said.
The Select Board meets again on March 7.