Royalston sewer costs to decrease in proposed budget

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 03-12-2024 5:00 PM

ROYALSTON – The budget for the town’s sewer department may see a modest 4.8 percent reduction in the next fiscal year.

The Selectboard last week recommended a spending package for the department of $95,364, a reduction of just over $4,800 from the current year’s budget of $100,188.

Ratepayers were stunned to see a significant increase in the cost of service for the current fiscal year, attributed to a jump in electric rates. The annual FY24 bill of $1,022 per unit represented an increase of $129 over last fiscal year’s bill of $893.

Selectboard Chair Rick Martin said despite the slight drop in next year’s budget, resident will still see bills amounting to approximately $1,000 per unit. Ratepayers are charged based on the number of toilets – or units – in their homes. At last count, there were 98 units among the 60 homes tied into the sewer system, which serves only the South Village, not the entire town.

Royalston is currently in year two of a three-year intermunicipal agreement with Athol, which puts Rob Sexton, chief operator of both the Athol and Royalston treatment plants, in charge of day-to-day operations of Royalston’s treatment plant, and overall oversight falling to Royalston Public Works Director Jaret Thiem. Athol is being paid $63,038 this year, and this will increase to $64,614 next fiscal year.

Martin said Sexton and Thiem have been working to try to find ways to be more efficient in the operation of the system.

“There are two blowers in the plant, and they’ve been trying to run only one blower when they can, depending on the weather,” Sexton said. “As a result, there has been a decrease in the use of electricity. They’re also experimenting with instead of having four sludge pickups per year only having two or three. So, that’s also a decrease in costs.”

The sludge referenced by Martin, which is created through the sewage treatment process, is trucked to Upper Blackstone Clean Water in Millbury. The line item for pumping/sludge removal is being cut from $2,900 to $1,500 for FY25. The budget for the purchase of chemicals is being cut in half, from $2,000 to $1,000.

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The overall cost of utilities, including electricity, will drop from the current $24,000 to $20,000 in the proposed FY25 budget.

“Utilities are utilities,” said Martin. “We’ve been able to decrease that a bit, but essentially two-thirds of the budget is basically fixed (costs). So we’re trying to make cuts happen when we can, with the small amount we have available to do that with.”

Martin said the town is looking into the feasibility of installing solar panels at the treatment plant in order to reduce electricity costs. He said that in Massachusetts, households and businesses can get a rebate for installing solar panels, but municipalities do not.

“On top of that, we’ve got to go through the procurement morass that you have to go through to get bids,” he said. “We’ve approached different local solar companies that do both residential and some businesses and they want to charge us just for the quote.”

The Selectboard, acting as the town’s Sewer Commission, will meet on Tuesday, March 19, to formally approve the proposed FY25 budget. The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on the First Floor at Town Hall.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.