Department Hours: by Appointment
Phone: 413-655-2300 x307
Water commissioners have authority under Massachusetts General Laws 111 sec. 173A and 173B to examine and protect water supplies and sources of supply and to take appropriate action to protect these. This includes watershed protection. Water commissioners must recognize this responsibility and provide whatever resources are required to operate the system in compliance with MassDEP regulations.
Q: I received my Water/Sewer bill and am surprised at the increase. What is going on?
A: Let’s look at this in two parts.
Several things converged to make this billing increase an unhappy necessity. First, the water rates were not adjusted for 13 years, so a good part of the increase comes from spending more on the costs of the system than we were collecting. Like everything else, costs go up over time and the rates should have been upped along the way to cover those costs.
Second, the state for several years had sent notices requiring the town to address a list of deficiencies it found in our water system. These notices were ignored. The town received a letter in September 2014 threatening a fine of $25,000 per day if the deficiencies were not corrected. At that point, the Water/Sewer Commission was empaneled and the water/sewer system was brought up to date to the state’s satisfaction.
One of the results of this modernization was the installation of new meters. Old meters had not been calibrated in 19 years, and many were not operating at all. The town took out a 5-year-loan for the new meters. To repay that loan, each user will pay $125 annually for 5 years, then that assessment will be retired.
Only users pay for water/sewer; that is, costs are not paid for with town funds raised by property taxes. The downside of this is the small number of users, approximately 325 presently.
At this time a user’s bill consists of two parts: the base rate of 615.00 per year plus the meter fee of $125.00; this bill, like property taxes, comes twice a year to lessen the burden on the payer. Beginning in January, approximately, actual usage will be a third part of the bill.
For both water and all three phases of sewer, a surplus of one year’s cost must be maintained to meet accounting requirements. This surplus was not fully funded as costs of the system were being paid out of the surplus, drawing it down below the required one year’s worth of funding. As part of this overhaul to ensure the town both meets state specifications and generates enough money to pay the costs of the system, a part-time Water/Sewer Superintendent was hired. Through his efforts, Hinsdale now has a plan for regular maintenance. Having someone checking systems regularly means a reduction in groundwater infiltration and breakdowns.
All sewage is treated at the Pittsfield Sewage Treatment Plant. There is a flow meter at the Dalton/Hinsdale line that measures the amount that Hinsdale is adding into Dalton sewer lines and the comingled sewage ends up in Pittsfield. Pittsfield annually bills Dalton for its share, which includes the Hinsdale percentage; Dalton then bills Hinsdale for that percentage. This year, our bill showed a 55% increase because Pittsfield is updating its facility. And they have more to do, so it is safe to assume more bad news will be coming in the future. Hinsdale has no control over this cost; building our own facility is out of the question as it would cost tens of millions of dollars.
As with the water rates, sewer rates had not been adjusted in 10 years. Again, only users pay sewer costs, but explaining them is complicated in that there are 3 phases of sewer costs, depending on where the sewer is located and who administers the system.
Phase I (approx. 325 users): These users are on a gravity-feed system that doesn’t require grinder pumps. The fee is $160 annually, half billed twice a year. Overages in surplus have been used to reduce this amount or this cost would be even higher. (Funds cannot be used between Phases; that is, all collected funds from Phase I are only used for Phase I costs.)
Phase II (approx. 25 users): Beechwood Forest (off Old Windsor Road) sewers are maintained by Dalton; these folks pay $455 annually.
Phase III (approx. 336 users): This group is the most complicated. 80% of these users have grinder pumps. Originally instituted 19 years ago with a 5-year warranty, these pumps are breaking down and each replacement costs $2500 in parts and labor. As time goes by and more of these pumps fail, Hinsdale will have to wrestle with how best to deal with these replacements. Annual cost for Sewer III users is $425, billed half twice a year.
Boris Basora is the Water/Sewer Clerk and is available to discuss bills or other matters pertaining to the utilities. He can be reached by phone at: 413/655-2300, ext. 307 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; office hours are by appointment.