Here’s why Onset water bills look different this fall

Nov 13, 2020

At the end of October, residents received their bills from the Onset Water Department. Unfortunately, those water bills have caused some concern and confusion. 

The bills were much higher than usual, and it wasn’t immediately clear to some Onset residents why their bills appeared to increase so sharply. Although the department included a short explanation on the bills themselves, Wareham Week went directly to the Onset Water Department to get more details.

Chairman of the Onset Board of Water Commissioners Ken Fontes said that rates for water in Onset were not increased at all. The bills sent out in October are higher because they included charges for water usage in both spring and fall, he explained.

“The problem is, we had to upgrade our software. We had problems with our old software — it was kind of dinosaur-aged,” Fontes said. “And once we started the process, we ran into the covid issue. So we couldn’t have people come in and work on the system.”

This meant that in April, the water commissioners found themselves in a difficult situation. Fontes said commissioners had to decide whether to send out estimated bills and another bill later to make up the difference, which could have been confusing and would have required a lot of manpower, or to just send out one bill once the new system was set up.

The commissioners decided to wait and send out one bill that charged for a full year of water service, he said. But because most people hadn’t factored a water bill double the usual cost into their budgets, Fontes said the department is prepared to work with its customers. 

“The tough thing is knowing the holidays are coming,” he said. “We don’t expect people to just write a check for $500. Some people can; some need time.”

Fontes said on a case-by-case basis, the department is prepared to work out payment plans. As long as a customer sets up a plan to pay their bill over time and sticks to that plan, he said there shouldn’t be any issues.

“We understand things happen,” he said. “If you agree to pay $100 a month for your next six months and then three months down the road, something comes up, don’t just ignore it and don’t pay it. You have to call and say, ‘Listen, this happened. I’m in a bind,’ and we’ll work through it.”

While the department can’t renegotiate payment plans every month, Fontes emphasized that the water commissioners understand people are experiencing tough economic times. 

Anyone having trouble paying their water bills outright this month should contact the Onset Water Department by calling 508-295-0603.

“At that time, we will discuss options with individuals,” Fontes said, adding that the department doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution in place.

He also said that moving forward, the department will return to sending bills twice a year.