Water Weighs on Lebanon
At Lebanon Pet & Aquarium Center in West Lebanon yesterday, Rebecca Mitchell of Bristol, N.H., gives her daughter Summer a better view of the store’s fish tanks. The city has proposed annual increases in its water and sewer rates. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Japanese Butterfly Koi fish swim in their tank at Lebanon Pet & Aquarium Center in West Lebanon. The city of Lebanon has proposed annual increases in its water and sewer rates
. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Employee Marshal Huneven's pet rat, Gubby, roams in the aquarium department at Lebanon Pet & Aquarium Center in West Lebanon. (
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon — Proposed rate increases for water and sewer have some business owners fretting over the impact on the bottom line.
At Lebanon Pet and Aquarium Center on Route 12A, aquarium-lined walls offer an ambience of bubbling tranquility in the store’s black-lit basement. General manager Ben Mayes said he could have to reduce the number of aquariums on display or raise the prices of the fish he sells in order to make up for rising utility costs.
“We try to keep an impressive fish room because we draw from a wide range, but it’s already a marginal business in that department because it takes a lot to maintain these tanks,” said Mayes.
The City Council will gather in City Hall tonight at 6 p.m. to discuss the rate increases — 5 percent for water fees and 9 percent for sewer fees. Under a proposed fee schedule, the rate increase in 2013 would be the first year of five consecutive years of similar-sized increases. The bulk of revenue added through the rate increases would be used to pay for improvements to the city’s water and sewer systems.
Kleen Laundry operates multiple Lebanon locations. The company’s president, Dennis Kim, said that water usage fees make up a “signficant portion” of the business’s operating costs.
He added that while Kleen Laundry has made investments to reduce its water consumption, the rate increases could still have “adverse impacts” on the business.
“The one thing I would have wished is that maybe we could have worked a little bit closer with the city on a solution that makes sense, because we are a pretty significant user,” Kim said.
He questioned whether Lebanon officials have focused too much on building out the capacity of the water and sewer infrastructure, as opposed to encouraging more efficient consumption by larger users.
“It just seems a little bit odd,” Kim said. “You would think the incentive and motive would be in place for commercial businesses to reduce their usage of natural resources.”
Joe Asch, who owns River Valley Club, said he wrote to City Manager Greg Lewis last month to express concern over the rising rates and just recently heard back from Lewis
Asch said the wastewater the fitness center produces isn’t that dirty and that there should be a system in place for recycling “gray water,” such as runoff showers and swimming pools.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center Director of Engineering Steve Cutter estimated the rates could drive up utility costs anywhere from $65,000 to $70,000 in the hospital’s 2014 fiscal year.
Despite that rise, Cutter said the anticpated increase was “not nearly as significant” as the impact felt by DHMC when the hospital first started paying Lebanon’s wastewater rates, instead of Hanover’s rates, two years ago.
DHMC sits on the border of Hanover and Lebanon and sends its wastewater to Hanover’s treatment facility, but in 2010, the hospital learned it would have to pay Lebanon’s rates, adding about $250,000 in yearly costs.
“That was a big hit,” said Cutter, who questioned why the hospital is being asked to pay for improvements to a wastewater facility it does not use.
“When you look at our overall utility costs, this is still a relatively small number,” he said. “But it’s real money.”
Jonathan Stark, director of plant operations for Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, anticipated that the rate increases would add about $6,000 to the hospital’s utility bills next year.
“If that happens every year for the next five years, that’s a signficiant impact,” he said.
Stark said that while he understands the need to improve the city’s water and sewer systems, a more gradual increase in the rates “would have been nice,” considering that city officials have been aware of the need to upgrade the city’s aging infrastructure for several years now.
Jay Campion, a real estate owner who owns commercial property in Hanover and vacant land in Lebanon, was less critical of the city. He said the sewer and water rate increases have “been a long time coming.”
“It definitely needs to be done for the sake of the city,” Campion said. “It’s the right thing to do environmentally, it’s really necessary, but it’s unfortunate that it’s coming all at once.”
He added that Lebanon planners and Public Works officials have done a “top rate job” on the infrastructure improvements already completed.
According to a study by Underwood Engineers — a Portsmouth, N.H. consulting company hired by the city — Lebanon’s average annual residential water bill was on par with Claremont, slightly less expensive than Keene, slightly more expensive than Hartford, Vt., and considerably less expensive than Hanover.
A similar comparison for sewer rates showed Lebanon as slightly less expensive than Keene and considerably less expensive than Claremont, more expesnive than Hartford and much more expensive than Hanover.
The study did not factor in the proposed rate increases.
Ben Conarck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3213