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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

With same workers reading electric, water meters, billing cycles change

As published in the Record Journal, Wednesday June 20, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff

(203) 317-2235

Residents used to paying their water and sewer bills in June, September and February may find themselves writing those checks one to two months earlier than usual.

Two-thirds of the town’s water billing dates will shift this summer as the Electric Division takes over meter reading for the Water and Sewer Division. Public Utilities Director George Adair said the consolidation is a cost-saving measure that will avoid having the town perform redundant work.

“On the water side for billing we had several meter men who were going out reading water meters in the same place (the electric meter readers) were reading electric meters,” Adair said. “This was a move we made from an efficiency standpoint.”

The change allowed the Water Division to eliminate its one meter reader position this year — a vacant position at the time.

“We worked this out with the respective collective bargaining units,” Adair said.

The town’s five Electric Division readers now read household water meters monthly, at the same time they read electric meters. The new reading system started in May, and some residents will see bills from the new cycles as early as July, according to Roger M. Dann, the Water and Sewer Division General Manager.

One-third of the town, the East side, will retain the traditional schedule, with clients receiving their next water bill in September, said Dann; customers in the center of town,
roughly Wilbur Cross Parkway to North or South Elm Street, will see an August bill; and the West side will see one in July. Before their first bill, residents will receive a notice informing them of the change.

Although electricity is billed monthly, the Water and Sewer Department will retain its 90-day billing cycle for the time being. Adair said the department may discuss moving the bills monthly, but any changes would be in the far future, and subject to public input. The change would require more funding in the way of staff time and supplies for putting together bills.

Utilities officials say the change will benefit users. In the past, water meters were sometimes read a full three months before a bill went out. For customers with unknown leaks and other issues affecting water use, that means it would sometimes take them several months to discover a problem. New monthly readings mean rates are measured just a month before a bill is issued — so residents can track their own usage. The Water Department also has a better handle on usage irregularities more quickly.

“A lot of the concerns we get relate to high consumption. Often it’s going to be the toilet leaking ... if you can catch that and stop it sooner, it’s good for the customer,” Dann said.

Adair said the department championed the change primarily for the sake of customers, but with monthly revenue now coming in, it was also good from a business standpoint for the town. “It also evens up our cash flow,” Adair said.

That big mess? It’s a future fire station

As published in the Record Journal, Wednesday June 20, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2235

Photo courtesy of the Record Journal

Drivers on North Farms Road near Route 68 could be excused for thinking a small tornado had swept through several acres on the road’s east side. Wood, metal and other building debris litters the expanse. But the mess is intentional, and is one of the first steps in a long process to build a new station for the North Farms Volunteer Fire Department, Fire Chief Peter Struble said Tuesday. 

Connecticut Dismantling, of Bridgeport, has spent the last three weeks leveling structures on the 11.2-acre former horse farm at 866 North Farms Road, including a large horse barn with a show ring set back on the property and two smaller barns near the street. Thetwo street-facing barns were the last to be razed, on June 14. Struble said the near carpet of debris on the site is set to be cleared by the end of the month, leaving a vacant lot.

“I’m glad we’re to a point where we can start cleaning up the property. The barns needed to come down. They were not in good shape, we needed to make the property look presentable again,” Struble said. The October 2011 snowstorm had caused part of the roof of the riding stable to collapse, one of the two barns near the street appeared to be leaning dangerously and a garage on the site had already fallen on its own, said Struble.

The razing will make way for the department to construct a new  North Farms volunteer station, which has been in the works for several years. The current station at 720 Barnes Road does not have the room to house an ambulance, nor land for expansion, fire officials have said. The North Farms location is one of four volunteer stations in the town, including Yalesville, on Hope Hill Road, East Wallingford, on Kondracki Lane, and Cook Hill, on Hall Avenue.

“This is an area that we knew we had to improve response time. The other site was not a good investment for the town in the long term,” Struble said.

The Town Council voted to purchase the North Farms Road land from Gregory and Mary Cichowski for $850,000 in December of 2010 and thenvoted on another $154,000 to clean the site. The Chichowskis ran a horse barn there, called Stepping Stone Farm. That funding is paying for the razing and possibly will cover some architectural work, Struble said. The cleaning fund has also included exterminator fees, often an issue with former farm sites. “There’s no signs of any rodents,” Struble said.

Once the site is clear, the department will approach the council for more funding, according to the chief. Previous estimates have put a new station at $6.6 million. Funding for the new station was set aside from money received by the town from the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority. Some residents still oppose the new location. John PaulBenham, who lives across the street from the farm, said his family, along with neighbors, had attended Town Council meetings in fear of the noise a fire station will bring to their primarily residential area.
Struble said he’s not sure when the new station would be built or would be operational.
“All things equal, if there’s funding, I’d like to see something happen in the next 2 years,” he said.

Once the new station is built, the current station will revert back to the ownership of the estate of Howard and Mable Wilkinson, who offered the land to the town only for use as a fire station, he said.
The current North Farms Volunteer Fire Department station on Barnes Road does not have room for an ambulance, nor land for expansion, fire officials havesaid.