Royalston officials review sewer bill increase

  • Residents of the South Village listen as the Royalston's Selectboard, in its role as Sewer Commission, explains the reasons behind high sewer bills for FY24. Just under 60 homes in South Royalston are served by the municipal sewer system. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 9/15/2023 4:40:23 PM
Modified: 9/15/2023 4:39:52 PM

ROYALSTON – Around a dozen South Village residents showed up for an informational meeting held to discuss an increase to their fiscal year 2024 sewer bills.

Just under 60 homes are tied into the sewer system, which serves South Royalston only. Homes in the rest of town employ septic systems. Royalston ratepayers are charged a flat fee based on the number of toilets, or ‘units,’ on their property. All told, there are 98 units among the 60 homes.

For the FY23 budget, $87,550 was allocated for the wastewater treatment plant, but an unexpected increase in the plant’s electric bill resulted in an additional $30,000 being spent. At June’s Annual Town Meeting, voters set the FY24 operating budget for the wastewater treatment plant at just over $100,188. That translates into an annual bill of $1,022 per unit, a significant increase over last fiscal year’s bill of $893.

“As you can see, the electric was $29,814 alone, almost twice the budget for all utilities,” Selectboard Chair Deb D’Amico explained. “It’s the electricity that’s really killing us.”

The amount allocated for all utilities last fiscal year – including electricity, water and propane – was $15,000. The amount budgeted for utilities for the current fiscal year is $24,000, rates for electricity having moderated some since last year.

Resident Mike Palmatier felt that this increase should be voted on at Town Meeting, or that a Sewer Commission be established for residents connected to the sewer system.

“We should have a board, a Sewer Commission, that’s made up of residents that get sewerage from the town, and we should be able to sit there and work on these budgets,” Palmatier said.

In August 2019, residents at a Special Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly to abolish the town’s elected three-member Sewer Commission and hand its responsibilities to the Selectboard. The move, as required, was ultimately approved by the state Legislature.

“My sewer bill is now $2,000,” said resident Lynne Kellner complained.

“That’s a tax without representation,” Palmatier interjected. “It was never put forward as a sewer tax, but it’s a tax.”

The board was asked about the possibility of running the treatment plant on solar power. Member Rick Martin said an initial assessment of that possibility determined the cost of installing a sewer system would run about $200,000.

The treatment plant is operated by employees of Athol’s water and sewer department under an intermunicipal agreement signed by the two towns in October 2020. Rob Sexton, chief operator of the respective treatment plants, told the audience that everything possible is being done to operate the facility as efficiently as possible while also keeping costs down.

Greg Vine can be reached at

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