To the Editor:
The City has held three public hearings to provide information on our request to have city residents approve of our plan to install water meters for all City water users. After reading several letters to the editor I believe some additional information is needed.
During the summer of 2008 the City Council was concerned that our water/sewer fees were not equitable among residential users. After reviewing the billing data I determined that the multi-family residential units that had water meters were paying significantly less for water and sewer use than equivalent multi-family units and single family homes without water meters. To address this inequity the City Council approved my recommendation to have a biannual living unit charge of $40 for metered water users and $50 for metered sewer users. These living unit charges were included in the water and sewer fees for the May 2009 through the May 2010 billing.
The living unit charges are an attempt to recover a portion of our fixed costs from all residential water/sewer users. Our water and sewer system fixed costs are 62 percent of total cost for the fiscal year that ended on 30 June 2011. As of 11/1/2011 the living unit charges for water of $21 per quarter and $37.50 per quarter for sewer users represent approximately 26 percent of the cost of the water and sewer departments. Our water and sewer systems are something like a car. The main cost is the purchasing, insuring, housing and maintenance of the car. The only costs that are related to car use are the fuel and some maintenance costs. Some local landlords believe that all our costs should be distributed based on usage alone and we do not agree with this volume-based approach.
After many complaints from local landlords including a threat to sue the City, the City Council upon receiving legal advice rescinded the living unit charge in the spring of 2010. Our legal counsel advised us that to have our water/sewer rates prevail in court the City would at least have to have a plan to install water meters. It is true that water and wastewater use is no longer too cheap to meter. To have an equitable system for charging all uses for water and sewer use the City must install water meters.
Our plan is to install water meters over a time period not to exceed ten years. We have chosen this time period so that our water/sewer users will not see increases due to installation of meters of more than $6 per year. This is possible since we have a cash balance of $122,158 in the water fund and $378,355 in the sewer fund and we will receive additional income from our current metered multi-family residential water and sewer users. Additionally, we intend to have the large majority of meters installed by our current public works employees as time allows avoiding additional labor costs.
To obtain some water usage data from single family homes the City installed 100 water meters. The average usage for the last billing cycle for these 100 meters was 137 gallons per day. For planning and permit issues the State of Vermont uses 210 gallons per day for a family of four. I know that residents are concerned about water/sewer fees when meters are installed.
The City Council approved new water/sewer fees to be effective on 1 November 2011. At this point in time all single family residences will be billed at the non-metered rates. While the new billing schedule includes quarterly billing, there is no increase for water and sewer fees for single family homes or other non-metered accounts. The residential metered water rate is $21 per living unit, a meter charge of $6.25 for a 5/8" meter and $2.15 per 1,000 gallons of usage. The residential metered wastewater rate is $37.50 per living unit and $2.50 per 1,000 gallons of water usage.
When metered rates apply to single family homes with a 5/8" meter and for homes without a water meter, the water fees are shown below under the new fees and usage.
Gal. 6-Month 6-Month after Current
Per Usage 11/1/2011 6 Month
Day Gallons Fees Fees
Water Sewer Total Water Sewer Total
Non-metered ??? ??? $128.84 $176.24 $305.08 $128.84 $176.24 $305.08
Metered 210 38,325 $136.88 $170.82 $307.70 $128.84 $176.24 $305.08
Metered 105 19,162 $ 95.70 $122.90 $218.60 $128.84 $176.24 $305.08
The 2000 Census determined that the average single family home had 2.33 individuals while the renter-occupied household had an average of 2.06 individuals. Hence, I expect for most residents the water usage will be closer to 105 gallons per day than to 210 gallons per day and most residents in a single family home will see a decrease in their water and sewer fees. For those metered single family homes that use 210 gallons of water per day the increased charge for water and sewer for a six month period would be $2.62 over today's fixed cost of water and sewer.
Finally, our goal is to have our rate structure reflect our cost structure and insure that the costs are distributed equitably to our users. The City needs to have water meters installed for all water users to have our water/sewer expenses distributed fairly. I ask for your support of our water meter installation plan when you vote on November 8, 2011.
John O. Ward Jr.
Newport City Manager