Norwich Public Utilities admits to filing reports past deadline

Norwich - Norwich Public Utilities officials have admitted they have not yet filed an annual water division report that was due last October and that they routinely file reports well past state deadlines.

The late filings and failure to file the 2010-11 fiscal year report with the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority were the basis of a complaint against NPU filed last week by the owners of the ACLS commercial laundry in the Norwich Business Park. ACLS argued that not having the reports hindered its review of whether the 27 percent water rate hike enacted July 1 and another 9 percent increase next year are necessary and reasonable.

Separately, the company filed suit on June 14 in Superior Court, challenging a 9 percent sewer rate increase enacted by NPU starting July 1.

NPU General Manager John Bilda and Steve Sinko, division manager of business services, said NPU cannot file the required annual reports until the city audit is completed - often later than the Oct. 31 filing deadline.

Bilda said NPU is in constant contact with PURA, formerly the state Department of Public Utility Control.

Sinko said the city audit was done in December and is available at NPU. The 2010-11 annual report still has not been filed because NPU staff was engaged in difficult budget calculations this spring, he said.

Bilda and Sinko said the city-owned utility usually files the state reports between February and May of the following year.

According to the complaint filed by ACLS Realty Holdings of New England LLC, NPU either has been late or failed to file reports for the past six years.

Attorney Glenn Carberry, representing ACLS, said the annual report for the 2009-10 fiscal year was not filed until six days after the April 24 public hearing, leaving him with three-year-old data to use in reviewing the rate increase.

Carberry dismissed NPU officials' explanation, saying the utility did not make financial information readily available to ratepayers at the April public hearing. He said the state-required annual reports contain information not included in the audit.

"We had about 10 days between the time the notice of hearing went in the paper and the time the hearing was held to figure out what was being proposed," Carberry said.

Dennis Schain, spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which now includes PURA, said the laundry company's complaint will be assigned to an investigator to determine whether NPU is in compliance.

PURA does not regulate municipal utilities for rates and operations, but the utilities are required to file the annual reports, Schain said.

If NPU is not in compliance, the utility would receive a written notice and be given a deadline to submit delinquent reports, Schain said. If the report is not filed, PURA would hold a hearing to consider fining the utility up to $5,000 per missing report.

c.bessette@theday.com

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