By now, everyone should have paid their quarterly Sewer bill. Since it came at the same time as the quarterly water bill from New London, most Waterford sewer customers probably noticed that their sewer bill was around twice the size of the water bill. I will try to explain just how we got to this place over the past eight or so years.
Prior to FY2004 the Waterford Utility Commission (WUC) was merging connection fees and annual sewer fees into one fund. Using connection fees to fund the daily operations of the sewer system helped keep user rates exceptionally low. In 2004 the WUC was informed that connection fees could not be used for operations but should be placed a a special maintenance fund to support future repair and maintenance of the sewer system. During this period, the Waterford Board of Finance (BOF) and the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) were also encouraging the WUC to become independent of the taxpayer and more reliant on the rate payer.
Before a review of the sewer rates over the previous five years it is worth the time to determine what makes up the enterprise fund budget. The largest expense in the budget is the fee charged by the Piacenti Regional Treatment Plant in New London operated by VEOLIA Water, Inc. under contract to the New London Water Pollution Control Authority. In FY2010 that fee was $1,341,842. The FY2011 budget is $1.5 million. The fee is based on the nearly one billion gallons of effluent that flow into the treatment plant from Waterford as a percentage of the total effluent treated by the plant annually. In an effort to reduce this amount, the WUC has embarked in a lengthy project to find unauthorized sewer connections such as gutter drains and sump pump discharges and checking the actual piping for leakage. This is referred to as Infiltration and Inflow (I/I). The aim is to reduced I/I to as low as possible.. The upgrading of the pump stations will also reduce the “foreign” effluent introduced to the Sewer System.
The next large expense is salaries and fringe benefits for the fifteen employees of the WUC. It was $1,099,832 in FY2010 and the FY2011 budget is $1,177,717. In an effort to be more independent of the town taxpayer, the WUC also commenced in FY2011 not to request any budget from the town but rather fund all operating expenses through the Enterprise Fund. This eliminated approximately $50,000 from the Town’s budget for FY2011 with the same expected in FY2012. By State Statute and by Waterford Ordinance, the Taxpayer is still expected to fund any capital expenses beyond the abilities of the Sewer Maintenance Fund.
In 2006 the Sewer Rate was a flat $225 per year for each residence and $3.65/1000 Gal for Commercial. According to the FY2006 Financial Report, at the end of FY2006 (June 30, 2006) the enterprise fund reported a loss of $1,658,678 which was made up by the transfers from the general fund to insure that all the bills were paid on time. After holding a public hearing, the WUC recommended to the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) in December 2006 to increase the rate to $235 per year for residential and $3.95/1000 Gal for commercial users. Despite this increase on June 30, 2007 the Enterprise Fund reported a loss of $2,046,775 In December 2007, the WUC requested a rate increase to $312 per year for residential and $5.25/1000 Gal for commercial users. The billing cycle changed from semiannual to quarterly starting in January 2008. The June 30, 2008 loss was $1,132,597. These steady increases in rates were becoming difficult for the single home owner, especially the senior citizens who believed they should not have to pay as much as the growing family of five or six for their sewer usage.
Under pressure from rate payers and the RTM, the WUC began to investigate billing by consumption. One of the hold ups in this effort was the inability to get accurate water consumption data from the New London Water system due to incompatibility of the software systems and the way that the New London contractor mixed New London and Waterford users. When the New London system contract operator changed to VEOLIA Water, Inc. the opportunity to get this information appeared. During the fall of 2008, the WUC and VEOLIA commenced testing a linkage to share customer usage information. In December 2008 the WUC proposed an increase in sewer rates to $407 per year for residential and $6.85/1000 gal for commercial customers. This proposal was rejected by the RTM after a contentious discussion. The WUC returned in February 2009 with a proposed residential increase to $385 per year and a commercial rate of $6.50 per 1000 Gal with a minimum rate of $494 per year. The rates would only be effective until June 30, 2009 when billing by consumption would take effect.
In August 2009 the RTM approved the request of the WUC to shift to a hybrid billing by consumption with a Tier 1 fixed charge of $180 per Equivalent Dwelling Unit and a Tier II Water Consumption Charge of $3.50 per 100 cubic feet. Users would be billed quarterly ($45 per quarter for Tier 1) plus the quarterly usage. as determined by the quarterly water consumption from the New London Water System. Special rules were established for sewer users that had well water rather than New London Water and procedures were established to permit rate payers who used significant water for gardening, filling swimming pools, washing cars, etc. to install secondary meters to reduce their sewer bills.
The Tier I charge is a fixed charge that is approximately 40% of the Enterprise fund budget which is considered by the WUC to be the amount that the WUC would need to operate regardless of the number of users in the system. The remaining 60% is related to the actual effluent treated by the New London Treatment Plant and the piping and pumps required to get the effluent to the Treatment plant.
This change in rate increased the bills of heavy water users but did not reduce the bills of the single resident sufficiently according to the many senior citizens and other single persons who appealed to RTM members for relief. At its December 2010 meeting, the RTM voted to ask the WUC to revaluate its sewer rates with the goal of reducing the fixed charge and moving toward a more complete “billing by consumption.” This move will increase the rates for large residential users. It will probably reduce rates for commercial customers and low water consumers.
If a rate payer has a sudden increase in the sewer bill due to water leakage or some other event not under the control of the rate payer, the WUC has been very reasonable in adjusting the rates and payment schedules for those users. They also are quick to place a lien on any home or business that does not pay on time or contact the WUC to make payment arrangements.
In summary, to reduce your sewer bill the key is use less water for washing, dishes, bathing, etc. The WUC is working to get any unnecessary water from the sewer piping to reduce the treatment fees. This will also reduce the rates required by sewer plant users. In the long run, these actions by both the WUC and the ratepayer will work to reduce the charges paid by the ratepayer.