After numerous meetings, public forums and hearings, the Select Board finally voted on a new “tiered water rate” system last night. Reading has been in violation of Massachusetts General Law 165 since 1994, where cities and towns were: required base rates shall be increased at an increasing block rate to fairly reflect the resource demand and consumption of high volume users of water. Therefore, a move to tiered rates was overdue but depending on which board member you asked or meeting you attended, you would have received a completely different answer until last night.
Chair Jackie McCarthy, expressed that the board “had a long road to get to this point and alot of good debate and discussion”. She hoped that “her vote would not be too much of a shock to the systems and the budgets to average households.” The tiers in her view “were on a good path to conservation and affordability.” She was in favor of the May 23rd tiers presented.
Vice-Chair Mark Dockser said “we should move toward tiers and the May 23rd proposal was a very good start and not perfect but seems to address most of the concerns and will work out for more conservation to 70%+ of the community and he was comfortable with the May 23rd proposal.”
Karen Herrick agreed with both Mark and Jackie and “did appreciate the input from residents on not only moving to tiered rates as required to but institute mechanisms around it to make it fair and equitable and she would be committed to that.” She concluded with being in support of the May 23rd proposal.
Board member Chris Haley, wanted to focus on getting the town in compliance with Mass General Law with three almost identical tiered rates (2.9%, 3% and 3.1%) and form a committee like Wakefield that would look at the findings the board had received over the past couples of month. His concerns were that the board was not taking into account 100% of Reading and only focusing on the lower tiered residents and omitting larger homes and businesses. Earlier in the meeting during public comment, Cathy Zeek, Chair of the Postmark Board of Trustees as well as resident John Sullivan expressed similar concerns as everyone in the Postmark Condos (136 Haven St) would be ascribed tier 5 (the largest tier) because of the single water meter for 50+ residents even though most would fall into tier 1 or 2 on their own.
In years past, the typical water rates discussion centered around how much of the water reserves to use to offset the increasing rates but that could only last until the water reserves were depleted. Last night, there was only a brief mention of that from board member Carlo Bacci. Carlo wanted to use up to $1 million dollars of reserves to offset the rates but as he pointed out, he also wanted the vote to be 5-0 like in years past but that would end up not being the case.
In the end, the Select Board voted on the following new tiered water and sewer rates 3-2 with Chris Haley and Carlo Bacci in the minority:
The new rates are effective with the December 2023 billing. The Select Board also noted during future agenda topics to keep discussing the issue.