Local club challenges Pepperell water and sewage billing

PEPPERELL — A local club is challenging Pepperell’s so-called new water and sewer billing rates, but an official with the city’s Department of Public Works says the rate increase was the result of a computer glitch that was undercharging for properties, which has now been fixed.

David Delorey, treasurer of Pepperell’s Siding Model Railroad Club, says his club, located in an “industrial condominium” at 41 Lomar Park, was overcharged by the city’s Department of Public Works. In fact, he said many multi-unit properties in the city have been overcrowded.

Delorey said the city implemented new “arbitrary” water and sewer rates in February.

“It has nothing to do with how much water you use,” Delorey said. “It’s a purely arbitrary thing and (the new water and sewer rates) are devastating.”

Delorey, a former member of the Billerica Board of Selectmen, said the city should charge people based on how much water they use. He has since requested access to city records, which Delorey called a “total mess,” regarding water and sewer rates and submitted a request for public record.

“(The Pepperell Department of Public Works) overcharges people – the water meter tells them people have used that amount and they ignore it and charge a minimum,” he said. “And, for some reason, they’re pretty much dug into the idea that those tariffs or okay.”

When contacted for comment, Paul Brinkman, commercial manager of Pepperell’s public works department, refuted Delorey’s claim. In fact, he said, many multi-unit buildings in the city had been undercharged about their use of water and sewage “for a long time”.

“I found that a lot of these properties weren’t paying the right rate,” Brinkman said. “It was a glitch in our software, but now they’re paying the right amount.”

“We didn’t go back and ask them to refund the money they weren’t charged, we just adjusted them to the appropriate rate. But it was a shock to some people and they have issues with it,” he said.

Brinkman, who previously served on Pepperell’s public works board, said everyone paying their fair share would benefit townspeople in the long run and noted the town has a minimum fee for using the water and sewer “for some time”.

“With that minimum charge, you get a certain amount of water and sewer, and beyond that you start paying tiered rates depending on what you use,” he said. “The more you use, the more you pay, that’s how it’s set up, and that’s how Pepperell has been doing it for a long time.”

Delorey said charging residents at a minimum, rather than based on what they use, “has absolutely no basis in fact.”

Brinkman said the Public Works Board holds an annual rate hearing to adjust water and sewer rates as needed and stressed that these meetings are open to the public. Delorey said he hopes to see the city adjust the rates sooner and that he should meet with officials — and present them with information about the rates and why they should be changed — on April 21.

“We let everyone know our schedule and that they’re welcome, and in the last 10 years no one has ever come in and said anything,” Brinkman said. “No one had a problem until we solved it.”

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