With Warwick customers of the Kent County Water Authority already paying nearly twice what Warwick Water Division customers pay, the city objected yesterday to Kent County’s request for rate increases that would boost bills by more than 14 percent starting in January.
“What else is new?” Timothy Brown, general manager of Kent, said yesterday when informed the city would object. City Solicitor Peter Ruggiero appeared before the Public Utilities Commission Wednesday to argue the increases are excessive.
Noting the disparity between what customers of Warwick Water and Kent Water pay, Avedisian said Tuesday that the proposed rate hike would unfairly burden residents as well as the city. The city pays Kent for hydrants within their Warwick service area, which includes most of Cowesett, West Natick and most of Apponaug. He questioned if hydrants are properly maintained and flushed, saying the requested hydrant increase of 30 percent would cost the city an additional $15,000 a year.
Brown said the rate increases are critical to implementing a new meter reading system for 24,000 customers at a projected cost of $6.6 million. Portions of the current system, he said, are 20 years old and replacing the system with radio-controlled readers would enable the agency to read all its customers within a day and a half, giving it the capability of monthly billing should it choose. Under the existing reading system, it takes personnel three weeks to read only a third of its customers.
According to the settlement agreement accepted Tuesday by the Public Utilities Division, the first round of increases would raise an additional $2.78 million a year. An additional rate hike of 4.77 percent would kick in Jan 1, 2018 to raise about $1 million more.
In a release, the mayor said the city “was not a party to the negotiations on the terms and conditions of the draft settlement agreement.”
His statement goes on to read, “While expenses must necessarily increase from year to year, the amount of expense and revenue increases in the short period of time contained in the draft settlement agreement constitutes unacceptable public agency budgeting and, in my opinion, poor public policy.”
As of Wednesday morning, Warwick was the only objector. Other parties are the Town of Coventry, Coventry Fire District and Central Coventry Fire District, which, like Warwick, were interveners in the original rate application filed on April 7.
Avedisian said he finds the terms and conditions of the draft settlement “unfair and unreasonable.”
“The persons and businesses located in Warwick and served by the KCWA would have to absorb these rate increases in too short a period of time,” he said.
The Public Utilities Commission is expected to render a decision at its public meeting Dec. 20.
Brown could not see a way of applying the rate increase to all KCWA customers other than those living in Warwick.
What would happen if the increase is denied by the PUC?
“The decision will be whatever it is,” he said.
Daniel O’Rourke said the average water bill for a Warwick customer using 74,800 gallons yearly is $330.62. This compares to about $525.40 for the same amount of water from KCWA. In addition, KCWA has a quarterly surcharge of $10.26 for a 5/8 to wo-inch service.