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Water Rate Boosted by 11% for 1 Year

The Bristol County Water Authority can't agree on a 5-year rate plan; it agrees to a 1-year boost of 11 percent with other rates over the next few years to be determined.

Your water rate went up Wednesday night by a little more than a $1 a week if you spent $500 last year for your drinking, showers, laundry and lawn watering.

The board of the Bristol County Water Authority raised rates by 11 percent for one year after failing to agree on any of several five-year rate plans. They actually voted down an initial motion for a one-year, 11 percent hike, too.

After failing to agree on rate hikes of 11-4-4-4-4 and 10-4-4-4-4 over the next five years, they finally got the 7-2 supermajority needed to raise the price of water for one year. Chairman Allan Klepper of Barrington suggested the one-year hike twice; he got the votes he needed on the second go-round.

“I’m pleased with the 11 percent,” said Executive Director Pamela Marchand. “It will be the one big bump for a while.”

The proposed 4 percent increases over the four years after 2013 “were never automatic increases,” she said. New battles would have been fought anyway.

But with the 11 percent rate hike, Marchand said, “we can get to the summer work on water quality, the smaller water quality projects, which will make a dramatic difference in water quality.”

The summer projects include improving pump stations cleaning and replacing water mains, she said. They are all part of a long-range strategic plan to improve the infrastructure.

The authority’s obsolete management information system also can be upgraded with the new cash generated by the rate increase, she said.

The water authority also won’t be running out of money to pay its operating expenses, she said, which would have been a possibility without an immediate and significant percentage boost in water rates. 

Board members failed to agree on any of the five-year rate plans because of differences of opinion over the size of the first-year rate hike and the longer term needs for the hiring of a project manager, operating engineer and MIS professional.

Paul Bishop of Bristol suggested a 5-year plan that called for percentage increases in each year of the plan  of 11-4-4-4-4.

“The system needs major work,” he said. “It will cost less than $4 a month for the average ratepayer.”

Board member Frank Sylvia of Bristol said he thought a 9-3-3-3-3 plan would still work.

Ray Palmieri of Warren disagreed.

“The system has been neglected way too long,” he said. “We need to bring it into this century.” 

Robert Allio of Barrington said: “We can’t continue to just get by.” He criticized Sylvia for having an “irresponsible attitude,” which he said was making the discussion “personal.”

Allio said it is personal.

“It’s essential we support the budget, which represents the minimum rate increase needed to continue operations,” he said. “A strategic plan fails when you don’t have the resources to carry it out.” 

John Jannitto of Warren thought a 9-4-4-4-4 plan would be sufficient if the board didn’t approve several new positions. 

Joe DeMelo of Bristol agreed the “the infrastructure stinks” and “it’s too easy to say people can’t afford the rate increase.” But he still said he had questions about the 5-year plans and wouldn’t vote for them without more information.

Kevin Fitta of Barrington, perhaps the biggest supporter of Marchand’s effort to upgrade the water system, said he supported the 11-4-4-4-4 plan because “it is not an arbitrary increase. It’s well thought out, recommended by professionals, and the best decision for ratepayers”

“We’re taking all the right steps,” he said. “It’s the correct path for the future.”

Bill Gosselin of Warren said he supported the 11-4-4-4-4 with two conditions: the last four years not be automatic increases, and the proposed new positions be brought back to the board before anyone is hired.

Marchand said the new positions she proposes “will save us money.” In-house professionals will be much cheaper in the long run than hiring consultants. 

“We’re labor intensive, and we’re severely understaffed,” she said. “We’re not doing things adequately.”

Klepper used a quote from Winston Churchill to push for the 11 percent rate hike for one year: “We’ve got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”

Jack Baillargeron January 11, 2013 at 04:26 PM
The dissolution of the BCWA should be the first thing the General Assembly looks at this year. It is a dangerous burden to the tri-town area and the whole of taxpayers in this State. Upon dissolution all records should be confiscated by the Department of Justice and gone through with a “Forensic Audit” back to its inception. All operations should be turned over to the State Water Resources Board and the legislative enabling Legislation should be made null and void along with all Contracts the BCWA currently has with any entities anywhere. All electronic and paper communication between the BCWA and any person or persons should be impounded for review independent outside of this State individuals. The General Assembly should not have a hand in any investigation due to possible collusion. This did not happen over decades without some very high level help. No judge in their right mind would allow the so called treatment plant to continue to run just because of a regulation, when the water is coming 100% from providence already treated and the other sources are not being used along with this Shad fiasco. It is this constant excuse of the enabling Legislation being used to maintain this “cash cow” in the name of accomplishing nothing but the rape of the ratepayers and taxpayers period. Dissolving it tomorrow would be a great way to start the New Year.
Lorraine F January 11, 2013 at 05:42 PM
Manifold, You say in your post that BCWA is contributing $325K into the pension plan. Sounds like a big chunk for a small company. What is the deal on that? State employees (me included) lost big on our pensions. Has BCWA done anything with their pension plan?
marina peterson January 11, 2013 at 06:30 PM
Not only that Lorraine, but in 2011 they contributed $785,893 from the Operations Budget into the Pension Plan, and in 2012 it was $622,060, also from the Operations Budget. There does not appear to be any record of any vote by the board to perform this transfer of funds. We are waiting for an explanation from Ms. Marchand on this.
Gary Morse January 11, 2013 at 08:30 PM
Marina, Just to clarify, the amounts you are quoting above are the rate payer contributions for FY 2011 and 2012 for the total post employment benefits - i.e. what rate payers put into the pension plan (because it's not fully funded), plus what rate payers are paying for other pay-as-you-go retirement costs (retiree healthcare etc.). It's a lot of money.
Manifold Witness January 11, 2013 at 10:51 PM
All good questions folks. Maybe the BCWA Board should have addressed these issues BEFORE voting on an 11% rate increase. It will be more of the same next year, most likely. Will your income go up 11% a year?

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