ANDOVER — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to hike water rates by 5 percent but left sewer rates alone during a hearing Wednesday night.
The water rate increase is needed, according to town officials, to pay for the costly benefits of retired water department employees and to maintain an aging water system.
It should mean an increase of less than $20 a year for the average water user in town, according to estimates presented to Selectmen, who by town charter are also Water and Sewer commissioners.
Plant and Facilities Director Chris Cronin had been seeking a 2.5 percent increase in both water and sewer rates. He said the vote on the sewer rate was disappointing but he was happy with the vote on the water rate.
“Five percent on the water rate means more revenue coming into town coffers,” he said, adding that there are some immediate projects that need to be tackled. There are no corresponding needs in the sewer system.
“We have miles of unlined water mains, there are immediate needs in the water treatment plant that are extremely important now,” he said. “They (Selectmen) understand that. They voted for higher than what I suggested. It’s a good thing, not just for the water and sewer department, but it’s good for the taxpayer. They are going to have a healthier water system.”
The town’s water system has taken a public relations beating over the last year or so, starting with numerous reports of brown water coming out of the tap last summer followed by an ongoing legal battle with a town resident over the cleaning of a water storage tank.
James Berberian of 2-4 Bancroft Road sued the town after water department employees cleaning out the Bancroft Street underground water storage tank in 2010 dumped sludge laced with arsenic and other heavy metals on his property. The lawsuit was settled late last year, with the town paying Berberian $500,000 while spending $600,000 on legal fees.