Opinion: Make sewer billing more fair

May 2, 2024

I moved to Wareham a little over 5 years ago mainly because of the low real estate tax rate. I couldn't stay in my hometown the taxes were so high. My first sewer bill was $313.00. I called the sewer department on 2/22/19 hoping there would be an allowance for household of one or senior citizens. I was told no. Flat rate for everyone.

Bill for 8/1/20-1/31/21 usage went up $10.00

Bill for 8/1/22-1/31/23 increased by $48.50

In a couple of years to begin paying off the loan for sewer treatment repairs, another increase estimated to be $80-$100 annually or about $40-$50 each billing. And Mark Drainville of GHD said there are additional costs that are coming in subsequent years.

As I was paying my current sewer bill I decided to go through my sewer folder and compose a synopsis of my correspondence with the departments.

In February of 2020 I wrote to the sewer department asking basing amount of sewerage use in a more fairer way for seniors with limited income and a one household occupancy. I followed up with another letter because I didn't hear back. On September 18, 2020, I received a four line response apologizing my letter went unanswered. It said we are presently, and have been for a few years now, working on a system that is more equitable. We presently have no access to water data and we are using Equivalent Dwelling Unit (EDU) System. On Sept 22 I called Mr. Campinha's office for more clarification. The lady who answered said it's an ongoing situation. Many seniors call. Many summer only residents call.

December 23, 2020 I wrote to Mr. Campinha in reference to a Wareham Week article of 12/17 about Town To Map Sewer System to express some thoughts that maybe this could be a good opportunity to work on a system that is more equitable (quoting a part of his previous letter
to me dated 9/18/20. No Reply

I wrote to Mr. Campinha on 2/22/21 to get a little more information about a Wareham Week article on 2/19 saying the sewer commission hopes to make the billing more equitable by tailoring bills to the size of the household. No reply.

2/25/21 Wareham Week article about Sewer commissioners aim to make billing more fair, But first need to untangle an incomplete and confusing billing schedule dating back to 1998. Homes and businesses are billed on the department's best estimate of their usage. Town's sewer department doesn't have access to water usage, which is controlled by two independent fire departments. The commissioners hope to adjust those billing rates to more accurately reflect usage. Chairman Jim Giberti said to keep in mind this is only a proposal. Article goes on to say there are flaws in the current system and the owner of a 1 bedroom homes pays the same amount for sewerage as owner of 8 bedroom home. On September 28,2021 I mailed a letter to Mr. Giberti, copying Sandy Slavin urging to look at all options that could be made available to seniors and lower income residents. On 10/3/21 I received an email reply from Mr. Giberti. EDU rate has been under discussion for some time with unfortunately no valid option at this time. Still attempting to arrive at a solution that will make the cost a little more equitable to all concerned. They'd hoped to use water usage as a benchmark but have been unable to get water departments to provide the information necessary on a timely basis in order to do this. Said they're constantly reviewing alternative ways to ways to adequately address this problems and that my concerns have been in previous and current discussions. When they're close to a method everyone will be notified in advance. I emailed a message back to Mr. Giberti on 10/5/21 having a question about water departments not providing necessary information on a timely
basis. I thought town departments worked together. No Reply.

In the Sippican Week on June 3,2021 there was an article about Marion using tiers for determining water and sewer usage in an effort to keep rate lowest among those who used the least water and sewer services. This kept the increases from being felt more heavily among those with smaller households that typically use the least water and sewer and often have lowest incomes. Interesting.

On July 20, 2023 there was a public information meeting at Town Hall before a $36M town vote on repairs to Wareham wastewater treatment facility. After this meeting I asked Bernie Pigeon about billing being based on usage. He said they are working and reviewing this. Then on December 7, 2023 there was an article in Wareham Week titled Dialogue About Sewer Usage Based Fees Reignited. Mr. Pigeon said changing to usage based fees would be more equitable as households with fewer individuals would not be charged the same as households with more people. Wants to restart the dialogue and see what needs to be done to make this idea a reality.

Since we have a town census taken every year and it requires the reporting of the number of occupants residing at a household, it would seem like a way to use this information for an accurate way to calculate true sewer usage. My home is listed at assessors office with 3 bedrooms. This information is good for selling a home but not actual sewer and water usage according to our required census reports for occupancy. Only one is used as my bedroom. Other guest and computer. I apologize for lengthy writing but I feel I've been getting the runaround, literally for years. The taxes may be reasonable but the sewer and water bills are killing me. I'm sure I am not the only senior or lower income resident struggling with this.

One last note. Can the sewer bill (due 4/10) be sent so it's not so close to the Real Estate Tax bill (due 5/1)? Ate up me whole April check.

Thank you.

Sherry Burke