from The Republican; Wednesday, September 03, 2008
By KEN ROSS
HOLYOKE – A City Council move to increase the fee for sewer service failed by a narrow vote Tuesday.
The council voted 7-6 in favor of the increase. But because the motion requires a two-thirds majority vote, the proposed rate increase was not approved.
Voting in favor of the increase were Councilors Diosdado Lopez, Joseph M. McGiverin, John J. O’Neill, John P. Brunelle, Patricia C. Devine, Anthony M. Keane and James M. Leahy. Voting against were Councilors Rebecca Lisi, Todd A. McGee, Elaine A. Pluta, Peter R. Tallman, John E. Whelihan and Timothy Purington. Councilors Kevin A. Jourdain and Donald R. Welch were absent.
If approved, the sewer use fee would have been raised by 74 cents or 15.8 percent from $4.66 per 1,000 gallons to $5.40 per 1,000 gallons.
The increase is needed mainly to help pay off $6 million in debt for the city’s new sewage treatment plant and $3 million for a combined sewer overflow abatement project on Mosher Street, William D. Fuqua, Department of Public Works superintendent, has said.
Several councilors spoke in favor of the proposed rate increase. “I certainly don’t want to see an increase but I think it would be short-sighted for us to vote against this,” Keane said.
“I think we have to do the responsible, fiduciary thing,” Leahy said.
But opponents to the defeated rate increase mainly noted the way the sewer system is currently managed through a contract with a private company, United Water.
“We do have the capacity to manage it on our own,” Lisi said.
That’s why Pluta said she believed the city should investigate the possibility of getting out of the contract with United Water.
“We have no oversight as to what’s going on,” Pluta said.
Last month, Fuqua said he hoped to implement the increase as soon as it was approved by the council. “It’s important because we’re losing about $150,000 a month in anticipated revenue,” Fuqua said Aug. 6.
On May 19, the Board of Public Works voted 3-0 in favor of recommending the rate increase.
The proposed increase was not a big surprise because public works officials planned two years ago to review sewer rates every two years, Fuqua said in May.
As a result, Fuqua said he does not envision rates going up again in the near future.