Norwich utility board passes no-increase budgets
Norwich - One year after dramatic increases to water and sewer rates packed public hearings and led to lawsuits against Norwich Public Utilities, the Board of Public Utilities Commissioners passed budgets Tuesday for all four divisions with no rate increases.
NPU officials did make adjustments to the electric and gas bills that take into account some of the complaints made by customers during last spring's contentious hearings.
Residents complained that while NPU officials said water and sewer rate increases were needed to cover the cost of massive systems upgrades, they could not tell how much of their bill was dedicated to the projects, and whether the bill would go down when the projects were done.
Starting in July, city electric and natural gas bills will have a line item called "capital tracker," delineating what portion of the bill will cover capital projects in next year's budget.
The electric division budget totals $54.6 million and includes a $400,000 capital project for circuit upgrades, said Steve Sinko, NPU division manager of business services. NPU reduced electric rates in November, reflecting lower natural gas costs. Those rates will remain in effect but were restructured to absorb the new capital project at no increase to customers.
The Board of Public Utilities Commissioners approved a $15.8 million natural gas division budget, including $2 million for capital projects. The division is under a nationwide federal mandate to upgrade aging natural gas pipes. Again, gas rates will remain the same, as the utility was able to use lower gas costs to absorb the capital increase, Sinko said.
Sinko said 22 percent of the city's gas lines are older cast iron or "unprotected" steel pipes that must be replaced. The utility expects the replacement to cost $1.2 million per year over the next several years. Replacements will follow the city's street repaving plan to avoid tearing up newly paved streets, Sinko said.
The water and sewer budgets that caused last year's controversy will not include the capital tracker in the budget in the coming year, NPU spokesman Mike Hughes said, but it will be incorporated into the bills in the future.
Commissioners approved a $9 million water division budget and a $7.3 million sewer budget, both without rate increases.
PUBLIC HEARINGS ON GAS, WATER, SEWER AND ELECTRIC DIVISION BUDGETS:
6 p.m. on April 23, Norwich Public Utilities, 16 South Golden St.
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