Monday night, by an 11 to 7 vote, Waterford’s Representative Town Meeting rejected a proposal by the Utility Commission to increase town sewer rates 6.28 percent for the average ratepayer.
RTM members rejected the proposal for a variety of reasons. Most of all, some members were upset that the Utility Commission provided no back-up information before the meeting to justify the rate increase, as instead Utility Commission Chairman Peter Green gave a PowerPoint presentation on the proposal at the meeting.
“We received no back-up information for this proposal,” RTM member Sharon Palmer said. ““That is disrespectful of this RTM. We need to time to digest this information… The Utility Commission has a terrible record on that.”
Other commission members suggested that the Utility Commission should lower set fees and rely more on consumption-based billing, while others wanted the commission to do more to prevent groundwater from entering into sewer pipes and artificially increasing the cost. Also, several RTM members expressed concerns after learning that the Utility Commission has around $600,000 of outstanding fees from delinquent ratepayers.
“The delinquencies would cover the increase by the ratepayer two-or-three-fold,” RTM member Elizabeth Sabilia said. “It is unfair that the commission should ask for this body to increase rates without a clear policy of collection.”
Specifics of the Increase
The Utility Commission was asking for a 10 percent increase in the consumption rate for consumers, meaning customers would pay $3.85 per 758 gallons used instead of the current rate of $3.50. The set cost consumers pay - $180 per year per estimated dwelling unit (EDU) – would stay flat.
The increase to consumers would vary depending on how much water they used, but on average it would mean a single-family home would pay an extra $30 a year, according to Green. The reason for the increase is because sewer treatment fees increased dramatically, a cost outside of the Utility Commission’s control, Green said.
RTM members were not swayed. Palmer, along with several other RTM members, said the Utility Commission does a bad job of communicating with the RTM, and was upset the commission was asking for a rate increase yet provided no back-up ahead of time.
“Generally what we hear from the Utility Commission is everything is fine, and then we ask you a specific question and you don’t know the answer,” Palmer said. “I can’t vote yes on this – I don’t know enough.”
Another problem voiced by Sabilia was the large amount of outstanding debts owed to the commission that remain uncollected. Green said the Utility Commission had up to $600,000 in uncollected fees.
The Utility Commission is looking into more aggressive ways to force people to pay, including shutting off their water, Green said. That is a process New London does now, and it is something the commission could adopt, he said.
Green also said the commission was looking into printing the names of delinquent ratepayers in the newspaper as a way to embarrass them into paying. He said even the threat of that would increase the chance of collecting.
A third concern brought up by the RTM was groundwater was coming into the system and increasing the cost for all. If groundwater goes into Waterford’s sewer lines, the sewer plant in New London still charges Waterford money to process it and it increases the cost for everybody, Green said.
Groundwater can come in two ways, the first is there is a leak in the sewer line and it rushes in, Green said. That can be addressed by fixing the sewer pipes, but that is expensive, he said.
The second is consumers can be flushing groundwater down a drain, which they don’t pay for because consumers only pay for the water they take from the water lines, Green said. Some people have sump pumps and put a hose off of that into a sink so the water rushes into the system, or some people even run the water off their gutters into a drain that adds cost to the commission, Green said.
A final concern voiced by RTM members was that the Utility Commission should look more into consumption-based billing, and lower the fixed EDU cost of the bill. RTM Moderator Tom Dembek said a $180-per-year set fee is too high, and instead people who use more should pay more.
One problem with that is it would increase the cost to residential homes, as businesses would pay less and residential homes would pay a bigger share, Utility Commission Assistant Director Jim Bartelli told Patch after the meeting.
For example, Millstone Power Station pays a large set fee because it has a big sewer line coming in, and is charged for many EDUs (roughly $45,000 a year). However, Millstone’s consumption rate isn’t very high, and if they were charged just consumption they would be paying much less, Bartelli said. The money would have to be made up somewhere, so residential homes would pay more, he said.
The RTM said it would reconsider the proposal at the December meeting.
Editor's Note: The original article said Millstone pays roughly $45,000 a quarter for their flat fee. They pay roughly that amount in a year for their flat fee.