Marion water bills spike due to infrastructure projects

Sep 24, 2020

MARION — Water rates have gone up sharply since Marion went $10 million in debt for major water and sewer projects, but despite suggestions like purchasing water from Wareham to lower costs, Town Administrator Jay McGrail said there is no “silver bullet.”

In a presentation at the first quarterly Water and Sewer Commissioners meeting on Sept. 24, McGrail explained that a 394% “massive spike” in debt during the current fiscal year from the $8 million wastewater treatment lagoon project and the $2 million replacement of water main lines along Mill Street has strained the water and sewer enterprise funds. 

The projects, the commission noted, were necessary due to the outdated nature of the town’s infrastructure, and the lack of action by previous Select Boards. 

“There isn’t any free money here, and that’s the problem,” Vice Chair John Waterman said. “Across the town, we have water mains that are undersized and old.” 

And due to previous usage of the funds to subsidize water rates from other municipal projects, the Town is left with little room to work with in the funds. 

As a result, the town raised water rates by up to around 20% for some residents in order to help pay down that debt. 

But that cost, in some cases, has been too much to bear for residents. 

“You just do the math,” McGrail said. “You’re spreading $10 million over 2,500 people.” 

And even though McGrail said it was “important to explain to the public where those increases were coming from,” the commission was subsequently grilled on their handling of the situation.

T.J. Walker of the Board of Assessors argued that the board should be looking into getting water from Wareham, provided the rate is cheaper, in order to lessen the burden on taxpayers. 

“If we had another source of water, we wouldn’t be paying a dime,” Walker said. 

But according to a presentation given by Engineering Manager Meghan Davis, Marion is on its way to being able to produce nearly double the amount of water used by its residents. 

“It’s not the production of the water,” Department of Public Works Director David Willett said. “It’s getting the water out to the community.”

The issue, the commission argued, is paying down the debt and getting more users on the water system to generate revenue. 

“Regardless of whether we get our water out of wells or from Wareham, we still have to fix those water mains,” Waterman said. 

But it’s exactly those infrastructure projects that landed the town in what McGrail called “a no-good situation.” 

“If it wasn’t for Mill Street, we wouldn’t have seen this increase,” he said.