By Jessica Sacco
October 09. 2014 10:07AM
Multi-unit buildings request changes to water, sewer rates
Representatives from Melrose condominiums and apartment complexes came together last week to dispute the fee structure for water and sewer rates.
A small group attended the city’s Water and Sewer Committee meeting on Oct. 1 to request officials accommodate multi-unit properties working off one master meter.
Melrose implemented a new three-tiered water and sewer fee system in 2013 that charges residents based on their consumption. Meaning, the more you use, the more you pay.
Quarterly usage is determined from a resident’s water meter.
The first step of the tiered structure covers citizens who use 1,000 to 2,000 cubic feet of water. Tier two encompasses 2,001 cubic feet to 10,000, followed by tier three, for those consuming over 10,000 cubic feet of water.
Members from apartment complexes and condos throughout the city argue that because they run on one central meter for all water use, they are billed at the third tier, which is not a fair representation of their consumption habits.
They asked city officials to consider averaging the total water and sewer bill by the number of units in a building, ultimately moving buildings to the lowest tier.
John Scenna, director of the Department of Public Works and chairman of the Water and Sewer Committee, said while averaging is not a policy currently in place, it is something members can consider for the future.
"We hear that there is a certain level of frustration from apartment and condo buildings," he said. "We’re going to try to look into that to see if there’s a more accommodating way to go about [the rates]."
Officials are also encouraging any multi-unit building to implement individual meters, which would allow for individual bills to be sent out, offsetting the majority of the costs associated with the master meter.
"If the individual meters go in, we can send individual bills," Scenna explained.
Discussion on the matter will continue at the committee’s next meeting on Nov. 12. Any changes to the rate system, however, would have to go before the Board of Aldermen in the spring for approval.
Steve Cefalo, trustee at the Mt. Vernon Condominiums, said their 30 units operate off one main meter. Consumption costs have increased from about $4,500 per quarter to roughly $8,000 since the tiered system came into play.
Cefalo said while he’d ideally like the city to implement an averaging system, condo officials are looking into the possibility of individually metering units.
This, however, would require a majority vote from owners, as it would be an alteration to the condominiums bylaws.
"We have to not only see if it’s feasible, but then see if we can get a majority vote to have it pass," Cefalo said. "But we’re willing to do that work and that effort."
Individual meters are not a possibility for all complexes, though. Melrose must be able to lien a property for any unpaid debt (like a water/sewer bill), which can only be implemented on residents who own a property.
"The apartments aren’t individually owned," Scenna said "We bill per meter, as long as there’s an owner to each meter."
Louis Franchi, who manages the Towne Estates Apartments on Pleasant Street, said he sees no way to alleviate higher costs at the property.
The complex houses 266 units (single, mixed family and elderly), divided into 12 buildings, each of which has a one-inch water main.
Franchi said although Towne Estate’s water consumption decreased in the last four years, their rates, under the tiered system, are increasing by 20 percent, putting them at tier three.
"I find that unfair," he said. "And we’re not able to control that because of the number of units on a single meter."
Nancy Cahill, property manager at the Main Street Coolidge Apartments, is also looking at ways her complex can be removed from tier three.
She said while the 49 units could most likely be individually metered, the city would not allow it, due to the lien regulations.
To make up for the approximate $10,000 in increased water and sewer costs the apartments are facing since the implementation of the tiered system, Cahill is hoping the city will adopt a meter-averaging program.
"Our consumption on our last bill was for 60,000 cubic feet," she said. "If you just did averaging, that would be 1,225 and then we’d be billed at tier one."
Otherwise, the apartment complex will have to look at raising the rent for residents or charging citizens at a tier three rate.
To better educate the representatives from the condos and apartments, committee members explained how the rate system operates.
Melrose is part of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which provides the city with an assessment each year that must be paid for water and sewer.
"When they send us the assessment, it’s not negotiable," said City Auditor Patrick Dello Russo.
This, in turn, affects the city’s water and sewer rates, as 76 cents of every dollar raised from sewer costs and 46 cents of every dollar from water is given directly to the MWRA.
ith little wiggle room, officials implemented the tiered system to try and better accommodate prices for residents.
Members will now spend the next several months studying what options are possible to provide relief to condos and apartments stuck at the highest consumption tier.
Along with looking at the feasibility and legality of implementing meter averaging, the committee will also investigate the unit method, which gives larger buildings more consumption at a lower tier.
For example, tier one accounts for water use up to 2,000 cubic feet. With the unit method, that same tier could be granted 10,000 more cubic feet at the first-rate tier.
"If we adjust the tier, it’s never just one adjustment without another impact," Scenna explained. "Any change we make is global to all of our users. What we do is look at where the majority of our accounts are and we try to mitigate the increase."
To determine the best option for Melrose, the committee will look at other MWRA communities to see how they address billing condos and apartments.
"At the end of the day, we have to be sure we’re doing the best we can for the residents of the community," Scenna said. "Its not a perfect system. No one can have it all. That’s just not how a system’s designed."
This is the brainchild of RD and his city auditor, who made a mess of the water/sewer accounts in his former town (Plymouth) and left them huge debt. It's a bad scheme, promoted by a really dumb consultant that the BOA hired (Conn should be ashamed of himself over this one). All of them, except Monica (who has been trying to have this addressed but being shut down by the rest of the cabal), should understand that this is causing outrage all over town. Those who aren't outraged over the poor condition of the school system are finding themselves getting madder and madder over their water and sewer bills, which are a disgrace. This needs to be fixed, not blown off by a bunch of buffoon aldermen.
Schenna's remarks are a$$inine. "Not perfect" indeed!
Prior poster is right - this falls right on the head of that nitwit Dello Russo, who was run out of Plymouth after leaving them with a huge problem, and by extension, Dolan, who thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread. It also falls on the Aldermen, since they don't, with one exception, seem to have the sand to step up and get this fixed. Mustn't pi$$ off the Mayor!
I can see apartments presenting a problem because of ownership/billing/lien issues, but there's no excuse for not averaging condos, where ownership is clear. Inexcusable, and Scenna's response is pathetic.
Agree that condo owners are getting hosed big time. DON'T forget that residential customers are getting hosed as well.
Shame on all that were involved in establishing the tier 1 and tier 2 usage numbers. The Tier 1 range should be increased to at least 2999.
Monica M is the only one who will not be silenced and play the game with the water bills.
Vote for Monica for State Senate.
The Weekly News front page "article" which is a MEMO from The Lewis Campaign shows the ability to spin, sling jargon and fact twist. The style/ way the "political speak" is written screams Brigid (I only thought she wrote for the Free Press)
Lewis is Increasingly fearful that Monica will beat him on her leadership regarding the water rates.
If you like your water and sewer rate increases vote for Jason Lewis the "insiders" candidate. If you value leadership on the water rate issue vote for Monica!
I feel that a lot of the "younger residents" (no offense intended, please) do not know that there should be/is better, and therefore don't demand it.