Increase in sewer rates gets rejected by Waterford RTM

Waterford - Members of the Representative Town Meeting on Monday voted down a proposed 6.28 percent increase to the town's sewer use rates, saying that they had little to no information about the reasons for the increase.

"Between the tax increase and the sewer increase, word on the street is that people aren't happy," RTM moderator Thomas J. Dembek said. "We'd reconsider an increase proposal with more information."

The increase, which would have been the town's first in three years, is necessary because the cost to treat the town's wastewater at the New London treatment plant has increased by nearly $700,000, or 63.5 percent, Utility Commission Chairman Peter Green said.

Members also voiced their concern over the number of residents who are delinquent on their sewer bills. Green said that the town has delinquencies in the $600,000 to $800,000 range and that the commission is considering creating a new policy that would turn off the water for those who have not paid their bills.

Last fiscal year, the town budgeted $1.3 million for treatment costs but ended up paying $1.7 million. At last month's public hearing on the issue, Green said that the commission had "underestimated" the volume of wastewater and also the cost of the treatment.

On Monday, Green said that short of another hurricane or tropical storm, the $1.5 million 2013 budget the commission has established for wastewater treatment is "accurate." He said that Tropical Storm Irene sent a large amount of water through the sewer system when it flooded the region last year and that amount of water contributed to the increase in treatment costs.

Approximately one billion gallons of wastewater pass through the town's sewer lines a year.

"It was the amount of rain we got in the period of time we got it, not the aggregate amount. It was a devastating storm and the affects of it we happened to see in this particular situation," Green said.

Waterford has a rate fee structure based on a two-tier charge system. The first tier is a $45 per quarter, or $180 per year, facility service charge that will not change under the proposed rate increase. The facility charge is used to pay for salaries, most services, supplies and some equipment.

Dembek said that he would like to also revisit the service charge, saying that he thinks it is too high.

If approved, the second tier, based on water consumption, will increase from $3.50 per 100 cubic feet to $3.85 per 100 cubic feet.

The consumption charge pays for the costs associated with generated wastewater which include electricity, water, wastewater treatment, chemicals, equipment parts and the replacement of major components.

Under the proposed rates, tier one and two sewer usage costs for typical household would rise by $30.42, bringing the total rates to $514.56 per year.

Currently, the average cost to a family is about $484.14 a year. Typical consumption is about 65,000 gallons of water per year.

"Having a two-tier system is the fairest way to charge our residents for their sewer use," Green said. "Those costs have to be spread among everyone. This is the fairest way and still places a huge onus on the owner, because they can control their bill by conserving water."

The RTM plans to reconsider the issue at its December meeting.


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