Have you gotten a surprisingly large town water bill recently? While there’s consternation on various lists about bigger than usual water bills, not to worry - the town is just shifting water charges off of property taxes, onto the water rates, to better reflect actual usage of individual accounts.

For example, our Water & Sewer Bill rates changed this summer with our 15-July bill. The first half of the year, the Water Rate for the first 15 ccf of water was $5.36. Now in the second half of the year, the Water Rate is now $6.28, with a corresponding increase in the Sewer Rate - thus a bigger water bill. However our August 1st Quarter Preliminary Real Estate Tax Bill went down about $200 compared to the bill from May. For average water-use households, the theoretical change should be near net zero.

Why The Change In Rates?

Previously, the town had put one quarter of the water rate funding into the property taxes in town. That meant in past years, your water bill was really only 3/4 of the actual cost of your water - the remaining 1/4 water cost was hidden in property tax bills, spread across the town. The town has now shifted all costs for water into the water bills, and out of property tax bills. This results in fairer billing on the whole, since large water users will now pay for all their usage, without other taxpayers subsidising part of the charge.

The Arlington DPW water page explains the changes clearly. Remember: there are a lot of other factors in how property tax rates are calculated, so be sure to read up on the details if you’re curious.

Arlington is one of 61 communities that utilizes the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) for water and sewer services at the cost of about $18 million per year to the Town. The Town has charged ¾ of these costs through the Water and Sewer Department, (whose revenue is collected through residents’ water bills) and ¼ of these costs has been paid for by taxpayers. Putting ¼ of the costs onto residents’ tax bills, as opposed to paying the whole amount through water bills, allowed residents to deduct part of their utility bills from their federal taxes. Taxes were deductible, but water and sewer fees were not. In 2018, the federal government changed the tax code and limited state and local tax deductions to $10,000, beginning in 2019.

More information on future plans is in the Water/Sewer Enterprise Fund FY 2021 Budget proposed going forward. You can also make a formal Application for Adjustment/Abatement of your Water Bill.

What About Water Leaks?

If your bill is really high, it’s also possible you have a water leak at home. As fall approaches, sometimes outside hoses get forgotten. You can use your water meter to try to detect leaks - most of Arlington has modern electronic water meters that get read wirelessly.

Check out this Arlington List post on FB by Jeremy Marin for How To Check Your Water Meter For Leaks. Note that water meters are now often inside the house, in the front of the basement, near where your water shut-off valve is.