Although the news presented by engineer Annaleis Hafford of Olver Associates at the September 9 meeting of the Stonington Water Company board was mixed, the possible rate increase wiped out any joy that the board might have felt.
On the good side, the level of the tank has been increasing steadily since Labor Day. Hafford expressed surprise that the level of usage could drop from 55,000 gallons a day to 35,000 gallons a day almost overnight, but the selectmen, who make up the water company board, were not surprised. They did wonder aloud, however, who was using all that water.
There is a plan now in place for hauling water should there be a prolonged draught.
The other good news is that the 205 well, which had been producing 2,000-3,000 gallons a day is now up to 6,000 gallons a day, the result of the installation of a new pump and cleaning.
As Hafford passed out the detailed information on a proposed rate increase, Selectman Chris Betts said, “We kept the rates pretty low for many, many years.” At previous meetings the discussion had centered on the fact that the rates were artificially low, kept low at the expense of needed maintenance.
The reasons for the proposed rate increase were listed on the second page of the handout in big type: 1) to provide sufficient operating and maintenance budget to repair the system on an ongoing basis and pay for staffing and 2) to provide sufficient increase to complete capital repairs to the water supply, treatment and distribution system.
That boils down to increasing revenue, and the way to do that is with a rate increase. Hafford said that all small water companies face the same issue—the costs are not distributed to a large number of users.
The following rates apply to those services which have 5/8 inch lines; the rates differ for the six customers with lines of a different width.
The existing rates for year-round residents who use the minimum (1,200 cubic feet per quarter) are $72 a quarter, with a charge of eight cents per 100 cubic feet of water over the minimum.
The rates for seasonal users are $288 per season for the first 1,200 cubic feet of water, with no surcharge until they exceed 2,400 cubic feet per season. Then the surcharge is the same eight cents per 100 cubic feet of water. The seasonal residents, in effect, pay the same rate, only they pay for the whole year at once. Currently seasonal customers are only charged if they have their service turned on.
Further, the water company charges taxpayers (annual paid through town meeting vote) $40,000 for the 26 hydrants in the town.
The new budget will go up to $215,000 from the current $137,345. To get to the new, higher amount, several things will need to change.
The quarterly rate for the same amount of water (formerly $72) will increase to $102; the seasonal residents will be charged $408 a year. Additional water will be charged at the rate of 11 cents per 100 cubic feet. In the case of seasonal residents, that amount will be billed on a given date, rather than when the water is turned on. Further, the seasonal residents will be charged whether or not the water is turned on, as the costs of maintaining the line are ongoing, whether or not water is going to a specific house.
The rate for turning on the water will increase from its current $13, which Hafford says is cheaper than any other water district she knows of, to $50, to cover the costs of labor and materials.
Further, the charge to the town for hydrants will go from $40,000 to $55,000 a year, and the Stonington Sanitary District charge will increase from $800 to $1,000 a year. The sanitary district uses the water company’s meters to determine how much water has been used, and therefore, how much is going into the sanitary district lines.
The selectmen asked a series of questions, including whether Hafford could delay applying to the Public Utilities Commission for the rate increase until there was a full board present. Richard Larrabee was absent, and the date for submission to the PUC is September 30. The board voted unanimously to have Hafford prepare the application and send it in.
Before the rates can become effective there has to be a public hearing, probably in late October or early November. The increase would then take place on January 1.
A new cross-contamination policy is also due to go into effect as soon as possible. Hafford explained that backflow preventers will be installed on all new residential and business services, as required by the state. Backflow prevention devices protect the water supply from reversals of flow from plumbing systems into the water supply.
Nursing homes, food processing facilities, restaurants, etc. will be required to install a backflow device, whether it is a new service or not. Existing residential customers, for the most part, will be exempt from this requirement. A letter explaining this requirement will be sent out to water customers in the near future, after which those required to have backflow devices will have 90 days to comply.
The levels of trihalomethane, which had exceeded the state limit, have dropped below the limit of 80 parts per billion to 57 parts per billion. Trihalomethane develops when there is too much chlorine in the system.