Letter: New Shrewsbury Water Rates Still Unequal

  • Comments (2)
A letter writer says new Shrewsbury water rates do nothing to resolve inequities between residential and commercial prices. Photo Credit: File

SHREWSBURY, Mass. — TheDailyVoice.com accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be emailed to jswinconeck@dailyvoice.com.

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

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Comments (2)


1) Your argument, and that of other town officials, is that residents should be encouraged to conserve water by increased rates, and I agree. Where I disagree completely with you is in your insistence that commercial businesses should not be encouraged to conserve water to the same degree as residents, i.e. by charging them the same higher rates at higher consumption levels. 2) You say that a family consuming 100,000 gallons in 3 months is using 3 times the national average, but so what? Water is more scarce in many other parts of the country, so all water consumers in those parts probably pay much higher water rates than in New England. 3) You and the Town Manager focus on averages, but some households may have very good reasons for their high consumption levels, such as medical issues, just as some (but certainly not all) commercial users may have very good reasons for their high consumption levels. 4) I’m sure you were trying to be funny when you suggested that we cut off folks who consume too much water or protest outside their homes; otherwise, we would have to apply these actions to wasteful commercial users. Or do you seriously believe that no commercial businesses are wasteful, or that no businesses water their lawns more than they should? 5) You say that ‘the town is unable to access cash from property taxes’ but what you mean is that you are unhappy that the town has not approved a Proposition 2 ½ budget override, so let’s ‘sock it to the heavy residential users’. OK then, but you still haven’t explained why that same logic should not apply to heavy commercial users as well. 6) Shrewsbury is a low cost community for businesses as well as residences. Businesses pay the same property tax rate as residences, unlike other places like Worcester and Marlborough. They enjoy lower water, sewer, and electric rates than most other communities in Massachusetts. Thus both businesses and residences are ‘paying their way’ equally, except that Shrewsbury gives its largest commercial water consumers substantial discounts relative to its largest residential consumers. 7) It’s obvious that you, as a member of the Shrewsbury Development Corporation, and all other town officials are anxious to bring commercial businesses to town – so am I. But that is no justification for giving businesses substantially discounted water rates at the highest consumption levels relative to residential rates.
John Lukach

Pat Convery:

John, If a residense consumes 100,000 gallons in 3 months, as you describe in your example, they are consuming at 3 times the national average for a family of 5. In the interst of conservation, perhaps we should cut these folks off and make them drill wells (not really conservation, but it would be a hassle), or protest outside their houses (the 99% percent who don't waste water could occupy thier lush green lawn). Since the town is unable to access cash from property taxes, why not sock it to the heavy residential users? The industrial users are already paying thier way in the form of wages, employment taxes, and low service costs (no school burden).

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