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Two hours of debate and five charter objections later, Pittsfield city council punts on water and sewer rates

A stone building with a colonnade.
Josh Landes

There was a long debate over rising water and sewer rates for the coming year, but no resolution at Tuesday night’s Pittsfield City Council meeting.

The city’s proposal for fiscal years 2022 and 2023 would mean a 12% increase in sewer rates and a 10% increase in water rates – the first hike for either utility since 2019.

“What this represents to some average consumption of water and sewer in the city for a typical two-bedroom house, it will represent about $19 per quarter," said Commissioner of Public Utilities Ricardo Morales. "That's a two-bedroom house, that's approximately $6.43 per month of an increase. And for a typical meter use household with 220 gallons per day, that's about $16.17 per quarter, $5.39 per month of an increase.”

The proposal prompted resistance from councilmembers.

“I sat up here for two years with the last city council and they raised taxes during a global pandemic. Believe it or not, this isn't over, even though we're all sick and tired of it. It's not over. The masks are going to go away and then the new virus is going to come out and be worse than the Omicron was. Who is helping the taxpayers? We got people who can afford food. We got citizens who can’t – senior citizens on a fixed income – who can't afford taxes, can’t afford to put food on their table," said Ward 7 City Councilor Anthony Maffuccio.

He said that while the city has received $40 million in federal relief money, residents are still suffering from the recession, rising inflation, and spiking gas prices.

“This is unsympathetic," Maffuccio continued. "We're all trying to recover and get back on our feet. Have a little compassion for people. Start driving around the West Side, start driving around the Morningside. Come on out of your neighborhoods, and come into the areas where all the shootings and crime is, and you can tell me how it is live in that way.”

Maffuccio proposed putting off the rate increases for at least the coming year. Other councilors like Ward 1’s Kenny Warren, Ward 2’s Charles Kronick, and At-Large Councilor Karen Kalinowsky voiced opposition to the increases as well.

At-Large City Councilor Earl Persip framed the issue as a painful but necessary move.

“I think as an at-large councilor, we kind of see the big picture of the city," he said. "And there's water problems throughout the city. I think about- Ward 4 has one that hasn't been addressed for years where they're not getting clean water. We have to pay for these projects. We have to provide these people with clean water, clean utilities. We provide a utility, costs go up for everybody. Cost goes up for the city. We see all the supplies have gone up. We're going to have to pay the piper, so we can put it off another year- Still going to come, still going to happen. Now we're going to be further down the road. No one wants to take these votes. It sucks. This is the sucky part of the job.”

With Council President Peter Marchetti absent due to the death of his husband last week, it was shaping up to be a tight vote before a raft of charter objections – a parliamentary emergency brake of sorts – was employed to delay it until the next meeting, March 8th.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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