North Smithfield sewer, water rates set to increase after deal with Woonsocket

North Smithfield sewer, water rates set to increase after deal with Woonsocket

Raise for employees gives more time to work on aging system

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Town residents may see increases of 1 percent in water use rates and 1.34 percent in sewer use rates in fiscal year 2019 pending approval of a budget proposal submitted before the Budget Committee on April 5.

According to Town Administrator Gary Ezovski, the sewer rate increase is partially due to the increased cost of the town’s continued use of the Woonsocket wastewater treatment facility following a 2017 settlement between the two municipalities regarding fees for waste services. Following several years of dispute, North Smithfield agreed to pay Woonsocket an additional annual host fee of about $200,000 as well as a sum of about $700,000 to account for previously unpaid fees.

“Were it not for the agreement with the city as it relates to a host fee, the $1.4 million treatment services line in the current budget, that treatment charge number would be something at or just below $200,000 less,” Ezovski told The Valley Breeze.

Prior to the settlement, the adopted treatment services charge paid to Woonsocket, which accounts for more than half of the $2.3 million budget, was between $1.2 million and $1.3 million annually, with the actual cost spiking to $1.8 million in 2017 to account for the sum paid following the settlement. Beginning in the current fiscal year, the adopted treatment services charge increased to about $1.4 million annually, with the same amount set aside for next year’s payment.

The proposed budget includes a 7 percent increase for water and sewer salaries and a decrease in the administrator’s fee, which compensates the town administrator for hours dedicated to water and sewer management. The proposed increase, said Ezovski, will provide a 2 percent pay increase for water and sewer employees and expand their hours from a 35-hour work week to a 35.5-hour work week.

“They’re not able to get all the things done that they need to get done in the system as some of the components age and we realize the need for more maintenance in the system,” he said.

The proposed budget also includes $60,000 for pump replacement and $4,500 for hydrant replacement, as well as $40,000 set aside under “contingency/renewal and replacement” to be put toward renovation of the storage tank on Industrial Drive in Slatersville. According to Ezovski, the tank requires about $500,000 in renovations, a project he hopes to accomplish within 10 years without the use of bonds.

“The way I’m looking at a lot of the obligations we have like road paving (and) fire truck purchases, the habit in the past has been to try to pay for them in one lump and it just doesn’t work out very well,” he said. “We just need to do the old-fashioned thing that my mother and father did. In the 1950s, when my dad came home with the cash, $10 would go into the rent slot, $5 would go into the utilities slot. I’m looking at doing the same simple thing with our plan for paying for many things in town so they don’t all hit together.”

Ezovski said he thinks the rate adjustments are modest considering the maintenance required on the town’s aging infrastructure, costs reflected in infrastructure projects across the country.

“It’s out of sight out of mind, but it’s critical obviously for sustenance as well as safety response,” he said.

Following a review by the Budget Committee, the budget and accompanying rate increases will be submitted to the Town Council for approval.