Boothbay Region Water District

Water rates surprise Southporters

Tue, 04/30/2013 - 10:30am

    When the Southport Water System merged with the Boothbay Region Water District, its ratepayers expected some kind of increase – just not the one that arrived in the mail.

    The Southport Water System billed ratepayers $270 for 2,400 cubic feet; with the BRWD, that amount went up to $291 for1,800 cubic feet for seasonal ratepayers.

    The board recommended “due diligence” by hiring a company to do an investigation into the rates. Water District Manager Jon Ziegra agreed.

    Gerry Gamage, one of Southport's trustees on the BRWD board, brought the issue up at the board's April 23 meeting. Gamage said he had been hearing from many Southport residents who, like himself, had been led to believe the increase would be minor.

    At no time during the process was an actual amount cited by the BRWD or asked for by Southport, Gamage said in a phone interview April 29. Southport ratepayers feel as though they have been hit not only with a higher bill, but a higher bill for less base amount cubic feet.

    “Bills were sent out prior to the water being turned on and meters installed,” Gamage said. “2,400 feet was pretty close to the consumption of a family. If you went over that cubic footage you were billed around $5 for each additional 100 cubic feet. Now they are paying $51 dollars more (the amount for the 800 cubic feet (equaling 2,400) they used to use; or $21 if they do not go over the new 1,800 cubic feet.”

    Gamage added that he had recently been on the water district's website looking for information about rates when he learned an increase had been approved for 2014. He suggested the district publicize the pending increase as much as possible.

    Maine water districts must file rate increase requests with the Maine Public Utilities Commission after a rate study has been completed by an outside company. Ziegra said the PUC had deemed the increase “fair and reasonable.”

    Ziegra said Southport was “not on the radar” when the rate increases were approved by the board. He noted the change in the district’s demographics with the addition of Southport that in turn, had increased cash flow. And, though the district was looking at significant investment (particularly on Southport) and debt, it could have the customer base to absorb them. He added that the district didn't base its rates on depreciation, which would increase them significantly.

    “I obviously didn't present the financials as well as I should have, but the increase is under $20 a year,” Ziegra said. “We do have a lot of debt … we will have to go for a rate increase at some point to have fire protection charges changed to be fair. Southport will be going from going from two hydrants to 20-plus.”

    Southport doesn't currently have fire protection. There are the two seasonal fire hydrants that do not meet the requirements or definition of a fire hydrant. The island does have a water source of 830 gallons per minute.

    Ziegra added that part of selling taking on the SWS to Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor was that ratepayers there would see some relief. “Once the hydrants go in, percentage-wise there will be a shift in infrastructure and its only fair that Southport pay its share.”

    In a Skype interview, Trustee at-large member Ken Marston said, “Let's do due diligence and see if this is changed enough that it changes or delays another increase. Let's make sure we are satisfied with the increase and how this shakes out with a new set of customers. We've never been car salesman and I don't want to start now.”

    Ziegra said he would contact Judy Wallingford at Maine Water Company to see if one of her people could do it; they are always doing rates.

    Seasonal water

    On Thursday, April 18 seasonal water was on and running system-wide. Ziegra reported start up was a challenge this year due to many breaks and damage that was uncovered that were attributed to the extreme and long-lasting cold weather. District crew members worked seven days a week for several weeks.

    “I love this crew,” Ziegra said. “They've just been taking it all in stride. And thanks to Gerry (Gamage) and the Southport crew for all their hard work. Everything went well; it was a cold winter and we had new areas to work (Southport).”

    Ziegra was diligent about updating the seasonal water road listings on the website every 24 hours to keep homeowners informed about their status.

    Southport and Interconnection Project

    The district is waiting for the original copy of the deed to take to the Southport Board of Selectmen to sign off on for the Registry of Deeds, deeding over two acres and a 50-foot right-of-way for the tank site and access to it. The tank site will be located on Sawyers Pond Road, the water pond for the island. The road beside the pond leads to a hill, the highest point on Southport Island, where a standpipe is located nearby.

    The district is leaning toward a concrete tank for the water supply.

    Rural Development is reviewing all submitted materials regarding the interconnection project. Ziegra said he didn't expect to hear about funding anytime soon.

    Ziegra has met with representative from DN Tank company is working with Dirigo on writing the specs for the tank site.

    Will have to rebuild the road (which was in the scope of service) to install the water main and blow out the western side of the flat landing, terrace it off and build it back another 80 feet. The bridge's maximum weight is sufficient to withstand the weight of the crane, which had been a concern.

    Mt. Pisgah and Kenniston Hill Standpipe

    The district expected to begin refilling the Mt. Pisgah tank on April 25 and/or 26. The Kenniston Hill standpipe bypass handled the system water without issue during the weeks Mt. Pisgah was offline for refurbishment. The bypass will be shutoff.

    The board went into executive session pursuant to 1 MRSA §405 (6) (a) not to return to regular session.

    The next meeting will be held Tuesday, May 14 at 7 p.m. at the district office on Adams Pond Road.

    Changes made above: Southport ratepayers were billed $291 for 1,800 cubic feet, not 1,600 cubic feet as reported. Seasonal users with a 5/8” meter that go over that 1,800 cubic feet will be charged $5.46 per each additional 100 cubic feet/748 gallons used.