January 7, 2013

Kennebec Water District plans 5 percent rate increase

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- Kennebec Water District is proposing to raise its rates 5 percent effective April 1, according to the district's general manager, Jeffrey LaCasse.

The increase would be across the board, affecting not only residential customers, but also commercial, industrial and governmental users, as well fire departments.

An average household using 2,000 cubic feet of water quarterly, and billed quarterly, would see an increase of $4.21 per bill, amounting to about a 5-cent increase per day, LaCasse said.

"We don't think that it (5 percent) is really a dramatic increase; we think it's reasonable," LaCasse said Monday.

The increase is necessary because the district had a significant loss of industrial revenue in 2012, residential use has declined in recent years, and the district's operational costs have increased, according to LaCasse. Current rates are expected to provide less revenue than is needed to meet projected expenses for 2013 and to help maintain and replace infrastructure.

The additional revenue from a district rate increase this year is expected to generate $241,653.

The last time the district increased its rates was in 2007, when the increase was 19.65 percent because of loss of industrial revenue, he said.

The district is required to host a public hearing on the proposed rate increase. It has set the hearing for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, in the City Council Chambers at The Center.

"People can come and express their opinions or ask questions," LaCasse said.

District customers may demand a review of rate changes by circulating a petition and garnering 1,000 customer signatures. They must file it with the district treasurer and the Maine Public Utilities Commission within 30 days of the public hearing, according to Paulina Collins, a PUC attorney and legislative liaison for the commission.

"If we don't receive a petition, then the rates will go into effect April 1," Collins said Monday.

The PUC regulates water utility rates to ensure they are just and reasonable, according to Collins.

She said there are about 150 water utilities in the state, including Kennebec Water District. The majority are consumer-owned, like the local district.

Waterville City Manager Michael Roy said that if the rate increase goes into effect, the city would pay $16,000 more for its bill for fire hydrant use, which is already $320,500 per year.

"That's pretty substantial," Roy said Monday.

The city uses about 300 hydrants.

The water district has about 8,800 customers -- mostly residential -- in Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield, Benton and parts of Vassalboro, according to LaCasse. The Town of Oakland also buys water from the district, but is not considered part of the district.

The district has a 10-member board of trustees elected by the communities it serves. The district has a 27-member staff who work throughout the district, a filtration plant in Vassalboro, a construction crew, an office and customer service department.

Its water source is China Lake and that water is sent to its users through 180 miles of pipe, according to LaCasse. He said the district, which started its system in 1899, needs to maintain its equipment.

"There is a lot of infrastructure, and it's getting more and more expensive to keep it up and maintained," he said.

He said standard user customers wanting to know how much their bill will increase may just increase their latest bill by 5 percent to get a figure.

The district filed its proposed rate increase with the PUC on Dec. 20, asking for an expedited review process, according to Collins.

The district sent letters Wednesday to consumers notifying them of the proposed increase, LaCasse said.

Asked why residential revenue has declined, LaCasse said it's due, in part, to the influx of water efficiency devices and the fact that people are using less water.

"It's really a national trend," he said.

Amy Calder -- 861-9247
acalder@centralmaine.com

 

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