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Friday, April 6, 2012

Rate hikes in electricity, water and sewer bills on tap in Wallingford

As published online at

By Mary Ellen Godin
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2255

WALLINGFORD — Property owners can expect rate hikes in their electricity, water and sewer bills this summer to help pay for operational costs, wages and system improvements.

“We cannot continue to provide the level of services without this increase,” Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said Monday when revealing the town’s 2012-2013 budget.

Electric Division customers will see a 0.6 percent rate increase, which translates into about $1.63 per month for a homeowner using 750 kilowatt hours. The division is also hiring an energy conservation specialist and maintenance electrician.

The Electric Division’s operation expenses increased 0.9 percent. Capital expenses increased 3.9 percent to spend $3.5 million toward a five-year capital improvement plan.

Water customers can expect to see a 3.5 percent rate increase, from $3.21 to $3.34 per 100 cubic feet, that is expected to raise revenues by 6 percent. For the average customer who uses about 5,500 gallons per month, that’s a change of 95 cents per month or $2.86 per quarter, said George Adair, director of public utilities.

According to Dickinson, the increases include some contractual wage increases. The bulk of the $1.6 million capital improvement budget includes $849,306 for transmission and distribution, and water main work on five streets.

Sewer rates will climb 10.3 percent and are expected to increase revenues by 14.2 percent. For an average user of about 5,500 gallons of water per month, that translates to $4.29 per month or $12.87 per quarter. Operating expenses increased 4.1 percent but employee pay raises are not included in this year’s budget.

Roughly half of the increase, or $6.44 per quarter, is the first installment of three to help pay for a $350,000 study that looks at sources of inflow and infiltration into the wastewater treatment plant. If the town reaches more than 90 percent of the 8 million gallon capacity, it is required to do a facility study and the implied purpose is to upgrade or increase the capacity.

“Obviously that’s not good economy,” Adair said. “This is a series of rate changes approved last summer. This is the third in a series of four.”

A preliminary study done three years ago revealed problems with private hookups from a home tap, roof, foundation drain and/or sump pump.

“That’s the sort of unwanted extra flow,” Adair said. “The problem is coming from the private side. We want to address this, we’ve made some investment, sampled some typical basins to characterize the problem. We have a good knowledge of where they are. It’s a proactive approach. But we’re not unique at all.”

Electric users will see the increase in their July bills. Water and sewer increases will show up in June.

Town utilities are user-supported, not taxpayer subsidized, and any rate increase hurts residents during an anemic economy that has seen lost jobs, stagnant wages and rising costs, according to town councilors. But most of them agree they’re justified.

“We can say we don’t like them but if the increase is due to expenditures, there isn’t a lot we can do,” said Town Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat. “I did notice they made upgrades to the plants.”

Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos, also a Democrat, said rate increases hurt those in the community still facing uncertain times and those living on fixed incomes.

“This is a bad time to have one, with mill rate increases, utility increases,” Economopoulos said. “There are people who are really concerned about this.”

Town Councilor Craig Fishbein said that while the increases are unpleasant, they are necessary.

“We have stuff coming down the pike and they’re looking to boost reserves,” Fishbein said.

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