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Water rates would rise 31 percent under plan

By   /   December 21, 2012  /   15 Comments

Richard W. Dionne Jr.

BCWA executive director Pam Marchand explains the authority’s financial situation at Thursday night’s rate hike public hearing.

The audience was small — just a handful of people — but directors of the Bristol County Water Authority got an earful when they held a public hearing on a plan to raise water rates held Thursday night at the Mt. Hope High School cafeteria.

From the timing of the request to the need for the money to the water authority’s overall plan, there wasn’t much picked apart or dissected by the few audience members who spoke, including several town councilors from Bristol and Barrington, two retirees and Bristol Rep. Raymond Gallison. No public officials from Warren attended the meeting.

“With this meeting tonight, to me, you’re the Grinches that stole Christmas,” said Rep. Gallison.

“Look at the ability of people to pay in the Bristol County area. They can’t afford it.”

Added Bristol resident James Ferreira:

“You’re killing the seniors. Me and my wife, we can’t continue to afford these increases. We can’t.”

Both were referring to a plan by the authority to raise rates 12 percent this coming year, with yearly 4 percent increases to follow over the next four years. That 28 percent increase actually translates into an overall hike of 31 percent, given compounding over the five-year life of the increases.

Authority executive director Pam Marchand said the increases are needed for many reasons, the first of which is ensuring Bristol County has a reliable backup source of water; namely, a connection to Pawtucket’s system at an estimated cost of $20 million. Money would also go to pay down debt, modernize the authority’s computer systems, and keep a healthy reserve balance as required by law and by bond issuers.

People are using less water than ever, she said, leading to a downward revenue trend in recent years. In response the authority has buttoned up and reduced costs, but it’s not enough.

“We’ve been cutting to the bone,” she said. “We’ve sold everything we could sell. We’ve sold vehicles, pumps, motors, whatever we can sell, we’ve gotten rid of. We have to invest in our infrastructure; it’s gotten past the point that we need to do this work.”

But several audience members seemed unconvinced, including Mr. Ferreira.

He questioned the authority’s need for the consultant who helped the organization plan a financial strategy to update infrastructure, mostly because one of the recommendations was to do do away with the long-standing senior discount.

“If you came to me and said what should we do with the senior discount, I would have told you to keep it and save all that money that you would have spent on the consultant” telling you to get rid of it.

Ms. Marchand, though, defended the senior discount phase out, which will begin in 2015 and be totally phased out by 2018. Meanwhile, a new “lifeline” discount will be introduced that will lower residents’ rates if they conserve.

Audience members also took issue with the timing of the authority’s proposed rate increases.

The BCWA’s fiscal year starts March 1, so any rate adjustments are usually completed in February. But this year, board members plan to vote on a “rate adjustment on Wednesday, Jan. 9, six days after a second public hearing is held at Warren Town Hall (at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 3).

Audience member Bill DeWitt, a member of the Barrington Town, said that’s too quick, and would undo any goodwill the authority has tried to engender since hiring Ms. Marchand and trying to improve the reputation and community outreach of the unpopular utility.

“As positive an accomplishment as (the community program) is, you’re going to lose all that you gain by jamming (a rate increase) through” to accommodate vacations, he said.

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15 Comments

  1. I wasn’t at the meeting last night. For some reason I thought it was in the auditorium, went there, and it was closed and dark. I did not see any signage or notice of the meeting so I thought it had been cancelled.

    The fact that there were only 3 or 4 concerned citizens that attended is bothersome and puzzling. Maybe the people have just given up. BCWA has squandered money for the last 20 years, failing to pay down their debt in a timely manner. Yes, we now have new management, but the decisions on spending money do not seem to be tightened at all. The Union contract was lucrative, especially considering the fact that it includes GUARANTEED jobs at GUARANTEED pay for union employees no matter what course the water authority should ultimately take. There will be NO layoffs if the plant is closed and BCWA becomes a distribution center.

    Two new executives will be hired at a cost of $100,000 including benefits.

    When asked about the increases on Wednesday night Ms. Marchand said that after the initial 12% it would probably be 4% ad infinitum because the authority has no money.

    BCWA has come full circle and embraced the recommendations of our citizen’s watch committee presented at the January Forum in 2011. Two years of “spinning” and calling people names, threatening to sue ratepayers who asked “too many questions” and, not only that, they “weren’t born and bred here”, and here we are. We are now being advised that it is more economical and results in safer, purer water, to purchase water from Scituate and Pawtucket instead of trying to process our own. Duh!

    It will be interesting to see how the ratepayers react when the first bills come rolling in. Folks, it’s too late then. Speak now or suffer the consequences.

  2. phewett says:

    For the record, none of the comments or opinions correctly attributed to me. Both were made by another gentleman who was one of the few other members of the public attending last night’s meeting at the high school.
    However I did ask questions and expressed my own concerns. I certainly share the common concerns expressed by Representative Gallison, Bristol Town Councilor Edwards and Barrington’s Mr. DeWitt about the poor timing of this planned significant rate increase and the poor effort made to go beyond the minimal requirements to communicate to the BCWA rate payers the scheduling of the two meetings held Wednesday and Thursday and the upcoming meeting on January 3 and the scheduled vote on the rate increase set for January 9. I am hopeful that the BCWA Board will reschedule the vote on the rate increases until as late in January as possible. This presumes that the rate increase must be implemented in 2012/2013.
    I urged Ms. Marchand to write an article for each of the east bay newspapers informing the public of the intent to raise rates and the specific reasons for them.
    Mr. Palmieri asked those present for any ideas anyone had for better communicating to the public particular important matters coming up for board decision, such as this rate increase plan, in addition to the required postings at the BCWA, Town Halls and local newspapers. Other than Ms. Marchand’s writing an informative article to the each of the local newspapers serving the rate payer population, no other ideas were offered. But, after the meeting a few ideas were tossed about. So, here is another. For something as significant as a 31% rate increase over five years, the BCWA should have and now ought to do a mass mailing to all its registered rate payers. I am told such could be done using bulk mail rates, much like candidates for political office do routinely, without being prohibitively expensive.
    I myself only learned about the meetings from an email from a friend. I did not see the announcement in the Bristol Phoenix until I returned home from Thursday night’s meeting. I was in Boston most of Thursday and came directly to the meeting from there. So an announcement in Thursday’s Phoenix did nothing to alert me to either Wednesday’s or Thursday’s meetings and did not provide the public much time to plan for Thursday evening even if they had seen the announcement Thursday’s newspaper. Whether the announcement was also printed last week’s papers, I do not know. Announcement of these meetings certainly should have run in the papers for two weeks.
    For those who did not make either meeting, let me tell you the rate increases coming your way and when and highlight in bullet fashion the reasons given for them and I understand them. The BCWA is promoting a multi-year strategic plan that calls for a 12% rate increase in 2013, with 4% increases planned for each of the four years thereafter. The total rate increase planned over the next five years is 28% or 31.5% (I am told) when compounding is taken in consideration. The need for the increases are due to: 1) renovation of pump stations; 2) cleaning and relining of existing miles of piping; installation of a new management information software system; 3) hiring of a new project manager and management information system manager (each at approximately $100,000 salary and benefits package); 4) installation of a new pipeline between East Providence and Pawtucket as the redundant source of water (Providence being the primary); and declining revenues.
    Another noteworthy revelation coming from these evening briefs is the fact that the discount for senior (65) rate payers will be phased out over the next few years. One member of the public at Thursday’s meeting expressed strongly his concern over the plan to do away with the senior discount. Also, Representative Gallison and Councilor Edwards expressed their concerns with the impact these rate hikes will have of the many residents who simply cannot afford to pay.
    BCWA has decided to pivot away from our ostensible present alternate sources of water in Massachusetts (Shad and Anawam) and instead connect to Pawtucket’s water source via a new line to between it and East Providence. This project is currently estimated to be a 20 million dollar undertaking for which bonds will need to be issued and serviced. My understanding is that BCWA is relying on the state paying half this tab and East Providence and the BCWA will share the remaining 10 million 50/50. In addition, BCWA is “hopeful” that the state legislature will agree to dedicate the 6.9 million dollars remaining unspent on the original plan to upgrade the Shad pipeline which currently is still the redundant source of water for Bristol County of record.
    From what I learned from Ms. Marchand’s informational briefings and from what I had learned from my own research and attending other meetings, it is my personal opinion that tying in to Pawtucket via East Providence is the best way to go for reasons of both water quality and costs. By doing so, BCWA would become essentially a distribution center, which is less expensive than being a treatment and distribution operation. There would be no need to continue to maintain and operate the Warren treatment facility. It could be shut down. However, I was mistaken in my belief that shutting this facility down would allow for some savings in manning costs. The new union contract negotiated by Ms. Marchand contains a no layoff provision.
    I urge everyone reading this missive to attend the January 3 meeting. I do not know where it will be held of what time. Take the initiative to find out. Call the BCWA office. Also, keep and eye out for the announcement of the BCWA meeting when a vote will be taken on the rate increases. That will likely take place on January 9 or a later date in January 2013. Stay tuned!

    • GaryM says:

      Pete,

      The $6.9 million has some problems that BCWA hasn’t been fully candid on.

      First, $5 million of that money was from a voter initiative in 2004 specifically allocated to “complete the Shad Pipeline”. The Legislature has little in the way of authority to reallocate the money.

      Second, the remainder of that amount was from a state transfer of $3.2 million in 1998 that, according to the records, may not have been an authorized transfer of state funds.

      The State Budget Office is currently trying to sort this out as to how the transfer of state funds ever took place in advance of completion of the Shad Pipeline.

      That $6.9 million may be an illusion, and rate payers themselves might have to cover this over and above the already requested 30% increase.

      • comn sense says:

        The Shad Pipeline wasn’t even started. This is a continuing scam.

        What about that bond money that BCWA themselves took out years ago to work on the Shad Pipeline. I guess it was spent, but we all know that not one inch of Shad Pipeline was installed.

        BCWA is one endless scandal, just with some new faces.

        The Bristol town council should remove DeMello from the Board as being a phony rate payer advocate. He’s for himself and little more than a political opportunist.

        • Joseph DeMelo says:

          First of all, COMN SENSE, please let myself and the reader’s know why the Bristol Town Council should remove me from my position as a BCWA Director? Also, what political opportunity am I looking for?

          When was the last time you attended a BCWA meeting? I assume by your comments it is never. If you feel I should be removed from my position, I tell you this, my term is up for reappointment in February. I invite you to apply for the position and let our Town Council decide. But then again, someone who is hiding behind an alias to post messages has no backbone. One thing to remember, there are always many protesters but few to many problem solver’s. You COMN SENSE CLEARLEY ARE NOT THE LATTER.

          • DownTown says:

            Mr DeMelo, Can you tell readers why the BCWA took over maintenance on the RWU water tower and apparently installed a high capacity pipeline on Ferry Road at no cost to RWU? Yet local ratepayers off Metacom Ave can’t get the BCWA to lift a finger to increase water pressure.

            Can you tell readers why the local water supply was completely abandoned as a source of water? (the water wasn’t great but it was a lot less than what we are paying now.) The pipeline was an over reaction to drought conditions.

            Rate payers here are being swindled. We have the third highest rates in the State behind only Block Island and Jamestown. Does everyone realize they are islands and we are not an island?

          • comn sense says:

            Mr DeMelo

            I speak of you as an opportunist because your actions since being appointed to the board show you to be an opportunist.

            You lobbied to become a director based on rate payer interests, but every vote you’ve made is anti rate payer.

            Yes Mr DeMelo, it’s not only me who now sees you as little more than an opportunist using this position as a stepping stone to Bristol crony central.

            And please stop with the “you be a director” dribble. You volunteered on your word, and have failed to live up to your word.

    • Eric Dickervitz says:

      Our apologies Mr. Hewett.
      The statements attributed to you were actually those of James Ferreira. The error has been corrected in the on-line version above, and we will print a correction in next weeks Warren Times and Bristol Phoenix.

  3. RightInRI1 says:

    Why didn’t Warren have any representation ?….You can certainly tell election day has come & gone…in the months leading up to the election I saw all the candidates ( councilors, reps, sen, etc ) at every function or meeting in town….now ?…nothing. Where does our Rep & Senator stand on what is happening here ? Rep Malik ? Senator Felag ?…hello ? And not one Warren town councilor could attend ?

  4. Not only are the citizens of this community angry about raising those rates, but how about this. For the second ime this week, I came across 2 BCWA employees who were on company time and doing their personal business in uniform and on company vehicle. Want to save money? Get rid of those losers who take advantage of their jobs.

    • comn sense says:

      You can’t get rid of any BCWA employee now. The union bargained in a “no layoff” clause designed to protect all the dead wood.

      Marchand says the rate payers got a good deal in the new contract, but she’s lying. We got scrwd (again).

      They still make a fortune for doing little, and have a benefit package and pension plan that is the envy of the free world.

      This is all marketing fluff by BCWA.

    • Things will never change.

      I was passed over for a job (NEVER INTERVIEWED) I was too qualified, had too many licenses, lived too close, didn’t know the right people.

      Who are they hiring more out of towners like (Marchand and her FRIEND Booth)? When a board member was questioned he said “you had a lot of competition”, I replied “how, I can’t get any more water licensing, I have them all already, I had the highest score on the exam”, “they are hiring less qualified people, were are you saving money, you are going to have to spend thousands of dollars training new hires”???

      Nothing changes, very, very sad.

  5. RightInRI1 says:

    Or the ones that have a business on the side and conduct such business on BCWA hours…

  6. DownTown says:

    Wow, the reason they need to raise rates is because people are not using enough water? Yet they then go on to say that discounts will be available for those that conserve water.

    Hey Marchand who paid to dig up Ferry Rd so that high capacity pipes could be put in for Roger Williams and why is the water company maintaining that tower and pumps at no charge to RWU?

  7. GaryM says:

    BCWA’s 31% rate increase is based largely in trust that they will use the money to the benefit of rate payers. At this point, I highly doubt it, nor have faith that BCWA can ever be trusted without PUC oversight.

    The vote to reinstate Sandra Mack as their legal counsel appeared illegal. They’ve posted the same “RFP – Legal” meeting notice every month, and then did a vote late at night to reinstate Ms. Mack on that same non descriptive notice in an attempt to keep the public out of the discussion.

    Sandra Mack has to be reviewing these notices. So was Sandra Mack’s legal advice to hold an illegal meeting so she could slip in without public debate???

    BCWA was controversial for the past two decades because of tactics like this. The Board should be ashamed of itself for continuing to promote such tactics, while at the same time, proclaiming a need to rebuild trust within the community.

    As far as I’m concerned, the meeting to reinstate Sandra Mack as their legal counsel sent a clear message that BCWA cannot be trusted with a 5 year 30+% rate increase. The foundation for that increase was trust in the community to act on rate payers best interests.

    They’ve just sent a message – rate payers be damned!

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