DPW director Donna LaScaleia presents the city’s recommendation to maintain the same water and sewer rates for FY25 during the March 21 City Council meeting.
Photo credit: Northampton Open Media

NORTHAMPTON — As Northampton’s Coca-Cola bottling plant continues to wind down its operations, the City Council is on the verge of maintaining the same water and sewer rates implemented last fiscal year for fiscal year 2025.

The amount resident users pay is based on the size of their pipe. Most users in Northampton have 5/8-inch or 3/4-inch pipe. For users with a 5/8-inch pipe, the water charge is expected to stay at $47 for each quarter of the year, while users with a 3/4-inch pipe will see their water base charge remain at $71.25 per quarter.
The quarterly base sewer charge for users with a 5/8-inch pipe, meanwhile, is expected to stay at $28.85. Those with a 3/4-inch pipe will continue to pay $36.06 per quarter for a base sewer charge.

“Due to the ongoing uncertainty and the volatility with Coca-Cola, we’re recommending no rate increase for either water or sewer this fiscal year,” said Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra during the March 21 City Council meeting. “Despite growing costs, we have managed to keep the usage rates stable.”

Back in 2021, the Coca-Cola bottling plant in the Northampton industrial park announced that it would shutter its doors in the summer of 2023 after serving six decades in Northampton. The plant then delayed the closing until December 2023, and then delayed it again until at least the first quarter of 2024.

Now, according to Donna LaScaleia, the DPW director for the city, the hope is that Coca-Cola exits by the end of June, but the timing is still up in the air.

“We all acknowledge that Coca-Cola is still here, but they are tailing off month over month, and, again, we expect a full exit, and it is unclear kind of what that’s going to look like and what the timing is going to look like,” LaScaleia said.

In the meantime, the plant is working in a diminished capacity as it has spent the last several months decreasing their operations in the city.

“They are running, I would say, at about 45% right now of what we would have seen from them,” LaScaleia said.
When Coca-Cola was fully operational, they took up a large portion of the city’s water and sewer fund. In fact, since the 1950s, they have been the largest user of water and sewer in Northampton.

According to data provided by LaScaleia, Coca-Cola usually accounts for 25%, or about $1.6 million of the $7 million Northampton takes in annually in water system revenue.

Out of the $6 million the city receives in sewer revenue, the bottling plant brings in a little over $1 million, or about a fifth of the city’s sewer revenue.

The 455,000-square-foot building is Northampton’s largest industrial facility, and with its imminent closure comes the loss of 300 jobs and a general restructuring of water and sewer base payments that affects everyone in the city, from residents to businesses, to hospitals and schools.

To accommodate for the significant loss of revenue from Coca-Cola’s imminent closure, the city raised quarterly base rates for water and implemented base rates for sewer charges this past fiscal year.

In early 2023, LaScaleia said that base increases were important because the city’s utilities are considered a closed financial system, which means they are entirely user-funded. Therefore, expenses must be paid for in revenue.

“Coca-Cola’s decision to cease operations in Northampton was certainly a devastating one for our water and sewer enterprises,” LaScaleia said during the recent March 21 meeting. “We pride ourselves on rate stability and have proven that over many years, and the increases to the base rates last year were meant to replace the revenue lost from Coca-Cola.”

According to Sciarra, if the city had not implemented the base rate changes last year, then they would not have been able to prove revenue to the state’s Department of Revenue this fiscal year.

“We would have been in a far worse position this year and in the out years than we are,” LaScaleia said. “We are stable, and everything is stable.”

With Coca-Cola still present in the community at limited capacity, LaScaleia added that there could be a surplus of revenue accrued at the end of the year. If that happens, then the DPW would approach the City Council with a recommendation about where the surplus money would go.

The City Council is expected to vote on maintaining the same water and sewer rates from FY24 for FY25 during its April 4 regular meeting. FY25 officially begins on July 1.

According to LaScaleia, there are two income exemption programs available at the assessor’s office for those who bring in low income. People who qualify for the programs will have their water and sewer base rate charges waived.

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