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To the Editor,
The new water rates recently approved by the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen do almost nothing to reduce the large inequities between residential and commercial rates. Commercial accounts will continue to enjoy drastically lower rates at higher consumption levels compared to residential accounts. The Town Manager's presentation ignored this disparity and focused on averages and medians. And without ever stating the actual differences between residential and commercial rates at higher consumption levels, he tried to justify them on business grounds.
Here are some facts about the new water rates. The residential cost of an additional 1,000 gallons of water over 25,000 gallons will be $6.30, while the commercial cost will be only $3.80, a 40% discount for commercial accounts. The residential cost of every additional 1,000 gallons of water over 60,000 gallons will be $10.00, while the commercial cost will still be only $3.80, a 62% discount for commercial accounts. Thus, for example, if a residence consumes 100,000 gallons in a quarter, it will have to pay $10.00 per thousand for its consumption over 60,000 gallons, or an additional $400; but if a commercial account consumes 100,000 gallons in a quarter, it will have to pay only $3.80 per thousand for its consumption over 60,000 gallons, or an additional $152. The Town Manager never explained why a residential account should have to pay $248 more than a commercial account for exactly the same product.
The Town Manager said that the town was in the business of selling water, and that it was sound business to offer its larger customers lower rates. But if both a residential customer and a commercial customer are each buying 100,000 gallons in the same quarter, they are both larger customers entitled to the same lower rate at the higher consumption levels.
The Town Manager made a somewhat contradictory argument that from a conservation perspective higher rates were needed for higher consumption levels. But the need for conservation does not justify the substantial difference between residential and commercial rates at higher usage levels. After all, the Town Manager has publicly stated that residential accounts have reduced their consumption levels and now meet state guidelines, at least partially due to drastic residential rate increases over the last ten years. Thus residential accounts have done more than their fair share to conserve water. It was long overdue for the town to encourage large commercial accounts to do more to conserve water by raising commercial rates sufficient to generate the additional revenue needed.
One more fact: According to the Town Manager's exhibits there were 33 large commercial accounts that consumed over 200,000 gallons per quarter, yet these accounts will pay only $3.80 per thousand for consumption over 60,000 gallons, no matter how much they consume, and even if much of it is just for watering lawns. Does anyone think that this rate really encourages commercial accounts to take serious conservation measures? If the commercial rate for additional consumption above 60,000 gallons had been increased to just $5.00 per thousand (just half the residential rate at these levels), it would have generated most of the additional needed revenue. Residential rate increases could then have been much lower. But the selectmen agreed with the Town Manager that residential water consumers should again bear the brunt of increased rates.
So are the selectmen really treating all water users equitably?
John Lukach, Shrewsbury