NORTH ANDOVER — Water and sewer rates for North Andover residents have been stable for the past seven years, according to Public Works Director James Stanford — and they will remain so this year.
Stanford and Finance Director Lyne Savage offered the Finance Committee this information Tuesday evening. Stanford explained that because of decreasing debt, the Water and Sewer departments are able to put more money into their operating budgets.
Stanford said the Sewer Department is also keeping the rates down by reducing the amount of flow that is processed by the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District wastewater treatment plant, which serves Lawrence, Methuen, Andover, North Andover and Dracut, as well as Salem, New Hampshire.
The plant is located at 240 Charles St., near the Lawrence Municipal Airport.
The communities are charged according to the amount of flow they send to the plant. If rain or groundwater get into the sewerage system, Stanford explained, that increases the flow – and thereby raises the town's cost.
The Sewer Department is working to reduce the flow by installing meters in manholes to determine where leaks are, he said.
In past years, there have been times when the town has had to consider layoffs to keep the budget in the black. Stanford now faces a different challenge: finding qualified workers for the operations he oversees.
He told the Finance Committee he is looking for a grade 4 water treatment plant operator. A candidate for this position must have a grade 4 operator's license and it takes years of experience to reach that level of expertise, he said.
"It's tough to find operators," Stanford said.
Finance Committee Chairwoman Sasha Weinreich suggested he consider collaborating with the schools to find students who might be interested in pursuing careers in water treatment. Stanford said the idea has merit.
He is also looking for a truck driver. That job requires a commercial driver's license.
The annual Town Meeting, currently scheduled for May 19, will act on the proposed budgets for the Water and Sewer departments. The Board of Selectmen has recommended a Water Department budget of $5.06 million, an increase of slightly less than 7.7% over the $4.7 million appropriated for the current fiscal year.
The selectmen are requesting $4.89 million for the Sewer Department, a 3.6% rise over the $4.72 million approved for the fiscal year that will end June 30. The Water and Sewer departments are financed by rates – not by real estate taxes.
The Finance Committee is reviewing the entire $106 million "general fund" budget – schools, public safety, roads, human services – which are paid for by real estate taxes – as well as the proposed spending for water and sewers.
The committee will hold a public hearing on those budgets April 8. After the hearing, the board will vote on whether to recommend their approval at Town Meeting.