The Block Island Times
http://block-island.villagesoup.com/p/1019935

Sewer, water fee increases approved

Customers concerned
By Stephanie Turaj | Jun 23, 2013
Photo by: Stephanie Turaj The water budget that was approved on Monday, June 17.

The sewer and water districts have approved their budgets for the 2014 fiscal year.

The total budget is $1,599,182 for the sewer district and $741,298 for the water district. These numbers include a 12 percent user fee increase for sewer customers, and a 3 percent user fee increase for water customers.

These increases would affect a total of 285 water customers and 371 sewer customers. Some customers expressed concern about the rate increases at the June 17 annual meeting of the sewer and water commissions.

“My sewer bill keeps going up. I can’t make any money,” said resident Cathy Payne. “A family of five can’t afford sewer and water.”

Island resident Vicki Carson echoed these comments. “A lot of people are close to a breaking point,” she said. “I think it’s a great system ... But is there an alternative? Is there something we haven’t explored?”

Leo Leone asked if there’s any way more customers could be added to the sewer and water districts in order to distribute the costs.

Sewer Commission Chair Peter McNerney noted that customers have been recently added at the West Side 20 and the Salt Pond Settlement housing complexes.

McNerney also said that there are planned upgrades at the sewer plant, and hopefully these upgrades will save money in areas such as electricity costs.

The sewer department is projected to earn $977,349 in user fees and $71,529 in customer charges, according to the budget. The remainder of the department’s revenue comes from its reserve fund, a water contract and various fees.

This is the third year sewer customers will see a fee increase to bring revenue in line with expenses, and as part of a five-year plan to repay more than $200,000 the department had borrowed from the town to cover a cash flow shortfall.

On the expense side, the sewer department has slated $413,368 for wages (both the water and sewer employees are on sewer payroll).

Some residents present at the June 17 meeting questioned the payscale of water and sewer employees. While Sewer Superintendent Chris Blane said current  pay structure for employees is fair, resident Brigid Price said that the statement was “subjective.”

Commissioners, including Water Commission Chair Sandra Finizia, said that both departments are understaffed.

Also, the sewer department has budgeted for $400,000 in property and equipment depreciation and $75,000 in repayment to the general fund. It is planning to spend over $50,000 on building, property and equipment maintenance.

The water department’s revenue is generated by $421,947 in user fees and $43,428 in customer charges. The remainder of water revenues will come from its reserve fund and various fees.

On the expense side, the water department has slated $253,865 for contracted services, $185,000 for depreciation and $95,931 for debt service. The remainder of expenses includes utilities, supplies and maintenance.

Regular meeting

The sewer and water commissions also held their regular monthly meeting on June 17.

The commissions voted to appoint officers for the next year. The same officers will remain, with Pete McNerney as sewer commission chair and Sandra Finizia as water commission chair.

The departments also signed a three-year-term service contract for Water Superintendent John Breunig, and another contract for Sewer Superintendent Chris Blane.

Blane reported on the monthly operations at the sewer plant. Over the past month, the department has undertaken various mechanical and electrical maintenance projects, Blane said.

Breunig reported on the monthly operations of the water plant — water production was down 12 percent over last May, but monthly revenues ($28,809) were up over last year.

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