2017-06-15 / Front Page

Water budget calls for 5.5 percent hike

BY TIM RIEL

If the town councilors approve the recommended water and sewer budget for fiscal 2017-18 Monday night, ratepayers will see a 5.5 percent increase in their next utility bill.

The spending plan includes an increase of $25,100 for the water division, representing a 2.1 percent hike from the current fiscal year. A renegotiated rental contract with cellular carriers and additional income from new customers at the Jamestown Terrace condominiums, however, zero out that increase.

One the sewer side, expenses are increasing $46,700, which represents a 6.8 percent uptick. According to Town Engineer Mike Gray, the driving force behind the surge is debt service stemming from the sewer slip-lining project ($31,522) and leasing the jet-vac truck ($16,400).

The water division is responsible for $1.23 million of $1.95 million combined plan, although the sewer rates are responsible for nearly two-thirds of the utility bill, Town Administrator Andy Nota said. While utility customers foot the entire sewer expenditure, all taxpayers pay a portion of the water division. Because of hydrant rentals, 8.4 percent of the combined plan is a shared burden between septic users and utility customers, stemming from $165,000 in expenses on the water budget.

To support this measure, sewer rates are expected to increase from $12.50 to $13.19.

“This plan is very conservative,” Nota said. “It’s a balanced budget, so we are basing the rates on the direct operating and capital costs needed to run these systems.”

Another reason for the increasing costs is conservation. According to Nota, the community has been successful limiting its water use, which directly impacts the revenue generated because less water is being sold.

“We have to remember that the water division is a business that sells a commodity,” he said. “The fear of running out of water has forced improved conservation.”

One alternative, he said, is for a desalination plant, which would essentially give the town an unlimited water supply because it could use the ocean surrounding the island. That, however, would cost “tens of millions of dollars,” Nota said.

At the financial town meeting two weeks ago, voters approved $550,000 to repair the South Pond dam. Although that cost is not represented in this budget, Nota predicts $116,600 in debt over a 15-year period under the current bond rates.

Going forward, Nota said the town is expected to begin an ambitious capital plan in the next two decades.

For the water division, a minimum investment of $112,000 annually is needed through 2032 to address critical system repairs. On the sewer side, a $3 million investment is recommended, which represents $150,000 annually for 20 years.

Currently, the town sets aside roughly $100,000 in capital money for water and half that for wastewater.

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