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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wallingford water use drops, but rates will rise — and so will sewer bills

As published in the Record Journal on Wednesday April 3, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD – Maintenance costs and reduced water consumption by residents have persuaded the Public Utilities Commission to unanimously approve water and sewer rate increases.

The new rates, effective June 1, will impact the average residential customer’s combined water and sewer bill by adding $2.33 monthly, said Bob Beaumont, commission chairman. The average resident — defined as having 5/8-inch water pipe and a yearly consumption of 8,800 cubic feet — will pay an additional $1.61 per month for water and 72 cents for sewer service.

Water rates have increased almost yearly in Wallingford, due almost entirely to a “general trend to declining consumption” of water, said Roger Dann, general manager of the town’s Water and Sewer divisions.

Dann said water conservation devices in homes are more common, in part because of his own department’s effectiveness in getting the message out to residents to reduce consumption. Dann called the situation a “double-edged sword.”

“As crazy as it seems, we encourage people to use less of our product,” said commission member David Gessert.

As labor and material costs increase and water usage declines, Dann said, the trend of rising rates will likely continue. Even if water usage increases, Dann said, “we have largely fixed costs;” therefore,“few expenses go down if we sell more water.”

Sewer rates had been slated for a larger increase, but the rate agreed upon on Tuesday night was “a third of what it was projected to be prior to tonight,” Beaumont said.

Four years ago, Dann said, a sewer rate increase was adopted and was supposed to go into effect this June, but the increase was cut Tuesday night. The increase, initially 39 cents per hundred cubic feet of consumption, was lowered to 13 cents.

Consumption is an issue for both the Sewer and Water divisions.

“The billable consumption in sewer, like water, has trended down for the same reasons,” Dann said.

The maintenance of mains, pumps and the aging sewage treatment plant also come as a cost to the town. As water and sewage treatment facilities get older, Dann said, “they require generally more maintenance.”

“We have to continue to make investments in sewer infrastructure,” Dann said.

Regulatory issues, such as phosphorous removal, also cost the town money.

A public hearing was held before the passage of increased water and sewer rates. Two residents attended the meeting, but did not object to the increases.

“These are rather conservative increases,” Gessert said.“They’re not outlandish.”