Water board approves 11 percent rate hike
Bristol County Water Authority customers will pay an average 11 percent more for their water this coming year. The authority's board of directors voted 7-2 Wednesday night to institute the rate hike, though board members held off on raising rates further down the road — for now.
Struggling with a deteriorating infrastructure, unreliable treatment plant and outdated systems, BCWA officials had wanted to raise rates 12 percent this coming year, then 4 percent each of the next four years. Those subsequent rate increases will still be discussed, members said Wednesday, but they won't be voted on until next year. The average customer will pay about $1 per week more for water, though the rate structure will vary based on the amount of water customers use, whether they're a resident or business, and other factors.
As it was, the 11 percent rate hike itself almost never came. Directors debated several rate hike proposals over the course of their discussion and voted down all of them, including the 11 percent plan. However, on a second vote the 11 percent hike received the 7-2 supermajority needed for passage. BCWA executive director Pam Marchand said it will set the authority on the right path for the coming year.
"It would give us more time, if you want to evaluate some of the other options" for subsequent rate hikes, she said. "But having that 11 percent is pretty critical for the first year."
Voting against the 11 percent increase were Bristol board member Frank Silvia and John Jannitto of Warren. Mr. Silvia said he was "vehemently opposed" to the original plan, to raise rates 12, 4, 4, 4 and 4 percent over five years (that 12 was reduced to 11 by Ms. Marchand prior to the meeting). Mr. Silvia suggested instead that the authority adopt rate hikes of 9, 3, 3, 3 and 3.
"I don't believe at this point that we have to adopt the Cadillac version that's been put before the board. The burden to the people that I represent, I can't accept."
Mr. Jannitto, too, was not happy with the original rate hike plan, mentioning specifically that many seniors depend on the senior discount that will be phased out over the next several years.
"I don't want to see anything that jeopardizes that discount," he said.
Another major concern from several board members, including Mr. Jannitto and Mr. Silvia, was the planned hiring, over the next few years, of an MIS professional, a project manager to oversee the authority's planned connection to the Pawtucket water supply, and an operating engineer. But Ms. Marchand said all are essential as the authority attempts to modernize and improve its systems. She noted that fully 75 percent of the authority's long-time employees are set to retire in the next several years, and it will be essential to bring in professionals to keep things going after their expertise is gone.
"We're a labor intensive organization," she said. "We are severely understaffed compared to other utilities."
Though several members quibbled over the 11 percent hike, saying they couldn't support more than 9 or 10 percent, others scoffed at the difference and said the time has come for the authority to take charge and do what is necessary.
"We've allowed ourselves to deteriorate," said board chairman Allan C. Klepper. "It's time that we deal with the issue."
"I think we're nickle and diming here, I really do," added member Ray Palmieri of Warren. "This has to move ahead. It has to be done. We've got to bite the bullet and move forward."