FRAMINGHAM – Framingham homeowners and businesses could see a 23% increase in their water & sewer rates over the next two years, to fix a deficit in the City of Framingham’s water & sewer funds, according to a consultant who presented to the City Council tonight, May 18.
The Spicer administration has not raised water & sewer rates since 2019. Under the City’s Charter the Mayor sets the rates.
Consultant Douglas Gardner told the City Council that the rates never increases but the Spicer administration’s cost continued to rise.
“We’re still drowning,” said Gardner “We need to get our head above water.”
The Spicer administration, in just three short years, took a fund with a surplus and depleted it.
The Spicer administration wants to use American Rescue funds from the federal government to help make the water & sewer enterprise funds solvent.
The City Chief Financial Officer (CFO) said the Spicer administration wants to $4.5 million in federal stimulus funds in fiscal year 2022, which starts July 1, and is proposing a 9.7% water & sewer rate hike, CFO Mary Ellen Kelley said Mayor Yvonne Spicer would hold a public hearing to set the water & sewer rates in June.
The consultant presented four scenarios to the City Council on how to stabilize the City of Framingham’s water & sewer enterprise funds.
Gardner’s recommendation to the Council – which does not have the authority to set the rates – only the Mayor can set the rates – was to use $4.1 million in stimulus funds and increase rates 11% in fiscal year 2022.
“It only puts a Band-Aid on a cut that is bleeding profusely,” said the consultant.
Gardner’s recommendation called for increasing water & sewer rates again in fiscal year 2023 at 12%
The City has been relying on large water users in its 5-tier system to fund the water & sewer enterprise funds, but those users have decreased their usage. And the usage decreased again during the pandemic. The Spicer administration is hopeful that the usage will increase in 2021, as restaurants re-open nd office buildings are filled with staffs.
The consultant was brought in by the City Council to look at what happened and how to fix the City’s water & sewer enterprise funds that have lost $18 million in the last 3 years.
District 6 City Councilor Phil Ottaviani Jr. said it was good to hear this plan from the consultant but added “It would be nice if the person who set the rate did something.”
Mayor Spicer did not attend the City Council meeting last night to hear the consultant’s report.
This administration needs to “stop the sinking Titanic,” said Ottaviani.
The consultant told the Council he does not see how the City can lower water & sewer rates anytime in the future.
He said the City was “very behind the 8-ball.”
District 1 City Councilor Christine Long said she did not see anyway around a 20% rate hike.
She agreed with the consultant that the City may need to consider a “base fee” for water users.
“Relying on federal funds is not going to work,” said Long.
The “scariest thing” said at-large City Councilor janet Leombruno “is this (problem) is not going away.
Councilor Leombruno said she was “truly worried” about this (water & sewer rate hike) up against a 2.5% proposed tax hike – the maximum allowed under law, proposed by the Spicer administration.
Leombruno said the water & sewer hike combined with the proposed the 2.5% take hike, the CPA tax, and the override increase due to Fuller Middle School is a lot for taxpayers, already struggling coming out of the pandemic.
“I’m really, really concerned for our residents,” said Leombruno.
District 2 City Councilor Cesar Stewart-Morales said the consultant’s analysis was “simplified.” He said it “confirms what we already knew,” that the City has an issue and needs to address it.
District 8 City Councilor John Stefanini said the report by the consultant was “incredible sobering,” given the “23% rate increase over 2 years” was the “best scenario.”
Stefanini said he was “frustrated” the City got into this situation in “3 short years.”
The Spicer administration went from a “a huge surplus to a huge deficit” in the water & sewer enterprise funds in just 3 years, said Stefanini.
The consultant said the City has very high debt in the water & sewer enterprise funds and it until it comes down the rates will need to increase
It also does not help that the MWRTA has been increasing its assessment to the City of Framingham 4 to 5% each year, except in 2020, in which there was no increase due to the pandemic.
“You (City) are bleeding to death. You need to stop the bleeding,” said the consultant. “The only way to do that is to raise the rates.”
District 4 City Councilor Michael cannon said he was disappointed the “sole rate setting authority elects not to dial in” to hear the consultant’s report.
It is “terrifying once again there is a crisis going on and the Mayor is no where to be found,” said City Council Chair George King Jr.
“Not much we (City Council) can do about this,” the Mayor sets the rates,” said King.