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Claremont Set To Raise Rates For Utilities



Valley News Correspondent
Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Claremont  — The City Council Wednesday night took the first step toward raising water rates an estimated 15 percent increase over five years for the average user.

The ordinance, approved 8-0, still requires a second reading and a public hearing before another council vote for adoption.

The council asked that when the public hearing is held, the Department of Public Works present its proposal using a Power Point and further, councilors want the impact shown in an example of a water and sewer bill for the average customer.

Councilor Scott Pope, who strongly opposed the DPW’s first recommendation that would have increased the average water and sewer bill nearly 33 percent, or $218, over the next five years, seemed satisfied with the rate increase approved by the council.

In particular, he cited the proposed rate freeze for five years for customers who use 2,000 cubic feet of water or less. Pope said it is important to keep those current rates in place because it is probably the category where many elderly and young people fall into.

“It will help a lot of people,” Pope said.

The average use equals 2,500 cubic feet every six months.

If approved as is, the average semi-annual water and sewer bill would increase about $100 over five years, according to the presentation Wednesday night.

Assistant Public Works Director Vic St. Pierre, who prepared several different options for the council, said the staff recommended the plan that was approved because its impact on the water department’s cash balance is not severe and they will be able to complete some capital improvement projects.

The water cash reserves would drop and estimated $400,000 over five years, bringing them from $2.5 million to $2.1 million with the sewer balance decreasing from $4.5 million to $3.8 million over the same period.

St. Pierre also noted that since 1988, water use in the city, from a combination of conservation and loss of industry, has dropped 40 percent, but cost to run and repair the system keep going up.

“If I had growth in the water system, we wouldn’t be asking for an increase,” St. Pierre said.

He further told the council that even with the increase, Claremont’s rates still would be below a number of surrounding and similar size communities.

Mayor Charlene Lovett was not at the meeting, but Assistant Mayor Vic Bergeron read a statement from her in which she favored an increase over the next year to cover operating costs and any debt payments.

St. Pierre said the recommended increase would allow for some, but not all, projects in the water department’s capital improvement plan to be completed, including the continued replacement of meters with lead in them.

Councilor Bruce Temple, the city’s former public works director, and City Manager Guy Santagate both expressed concerns that the council was not raising rates enough for much needed capital improvements.

“It is less of an issue to vote a lower rate,” said Santagate. “You are not going to do the projects that are necessary. There is no other way around it.”

Temple said all the projects could get done if “you fully fund” the rate increase “and not kick the can down the road.”

The original recommendation for a 33 percent increase over five years would have meant money for capital projects and increasing the cash balance of the department.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com