This year, I am serving as the Board of Aldermen representative to the Water and Sewer Rate Committee. I read the following narrative into the record at our February 4 Board of Aldermen meeting. This committee will meet several more times before the end of April in order to set water rates for the coming year. - Manisha
The Water and Sewer Committee met on Thursday, January 31, 2019. Representatives from the Department of Public Works, Office of the Treasurer and Collector, and the Auditor's Office presented an overview of the Water and Sewer Enterprise Fund Accounts, and water and sewer operations including updates on infrastructure conditions, meter billing, revenue, and reserves. The goal of the committee is to make its recommendations for 2020 water rates by April 30, in time for Board of Aldermen approval in early May. This committee will meet several times between now and the end of April.
City Engineer Elena Proakis Ellis represents Melrose on the Executive Committee for the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority Advisory Board, which helps us maintain strong communication between the MWRA and the City of Melrose.
City staff emphasized the benefits of aggressive preventative maintenance and the importance of maintaining a 10% reserve in our enterprise funds. They mentioned issues that other communities have faced with mid-year increases, something Melrose is actively avoiding by closely monitoring usage, projecting anticipated changes in usage based on demographic shifts, and working with consultants and the MWRA to monitor the system regularly.
For example, DPW, with some help from its consultants as well as the MWRA, closely monitors water consumption patterns to identify if there are leaks in the system. In December, we had a spike in our water consumption that they were able to detect - it turned out to be an irrigation feed and hydrant fire protection line near Ell Pond that had formed a puddle large enough for ducks to wade in it. Several thousand gallons of water was lost directly into Ell Pond as a result of this leak. That feed has now been turned off for the winter and will be repaired in the Spring prior to irrigation season. In another area of Melrose, City personnel discovered 11 feet of crumbled sewer main while responding to a blocked sewer call - the repairs were made immediately by DPW crews. DPW also performed a city wide system leak detection evaluation of the water system. All leaks found with that evaluation were repaired by the DPW crew. Water main replacement projects were also completed last year on Warwick and Perkins; on Florence Street; and on Ashmont Street and Ashmont Park; work in the Garfield and East Emerson project started and will be completed this year.
Thanks to efforts to remove infiltration and inflow, our sewer flows have decreased and our overall percent share of the MWRA’s total sewer flow has also decreased. In addition, repairs to our water system and due to water conservation mainly in homes have resulted in decreasing water usage Citywide, which has also decreased our percent share of the MWRA’s total water consumption. DPW remains hopeful that both of these together could result in lower percentage rate increases from the MWRA than some of our neighbors in the upcoming fiscal year.
The City's automatic meter reading and water meter replacement program is 99% complete, with about 250 accounts out of 8,400 remaining. These remaining accounts continue to be charged the manual fee passed by this Board. These new meters make it easier to detect leaks - homeowners can monitor them on their own, and the City looks at the readouts when preparing water bills and notifies homeowners of suspected leaks as well. One of the resident representatives on the committee mentioned that his neighbor benefited from this new metering system - when the City notified the neighbor of an irrigation system that was left on.
Some larger developments and building accounts are not part of this meter replacement program as they require larger meters - currently these are monitored and are being evaluated for replacement.
The City has been working to install CIPP - Cured in Place Pipes - lining on older sewer pipes in areas throughout the city, which seals them without requiring complete replacement. This has helped to further reduce infiltration and inflow while creating less disruption than complete replacement. As a reminder, I&I is when rainwater and groundwater flow into our sewers and overload the system, making it less efficient and driving up our costs. Other repairs and replacements, including open cut replacement of sections of pipe, as well as manhole repairs, also continue.
As mentioned previously in this Chamber, the City now offers monthly billing. Although there is some additional cost for providing more frequent billing, there is the benefit to residents of potentially having more affordable monthly payments (vs. quarterly) and can help residents and the city identify issues more quickly. You can sign up any time by contacting the DPW Water Billing office at 781-979-4175 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. To expedite service, please include your name, account number, account location, billing address, and telephone number, and specify your interest in signing up for monthly billing. This information is also available in your water bill.
Additionally, residents age 65 and older may be eligible for a water and sewer discount from the city, or a condo owner sewer and water credit.
We currently maintain a 10% reserve in our water and sewer enterprise accounts. The current balance for free cash in these accounts is $738,945 for water and $718,929 for sewer, which carries over from year to year. So long as we can maintain a reserve, some of this free cash may be diverted towards additional capital improvements and equipment for our water and sewer systems. More to come in early March!