NEW BRITAIN – Common Council members are trying to float a plan to waive municipal water and sewer fees traditionally paid to the Water Department.
The plan up for discussion during Thursday’s Common Council Consolidated Subcommittee meeting would shift the burden of paying for the water the city uses in municipal buildings and parks from the city budget to the Water Department. The meeting takes place at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall.
Mayor Erin Stewart included $105,000 for municipal water use and $105,000 for municipal sewer use in her proposed 2017-18 budget, according to her spokesman, David Huck. Stewart’s budget proposal allots $175,000 for water and sewer for the Parks Department alone. The $210,000 does not include the cost of water and sewer use for the schools, Huck said. Whether the schools will be included in the waiver will be discussed at the meeting, he said.
“This proposal was put forth as an idea in order to save the city money,” Huck said. “The mayor’s office looks forward to the discussions that will arise as the Consolidated Subcommittee takes up the proposal. Many questions remain unanswered at this time, so the committee is doing its due diligence to explore the proposal further to determine if the idea is even feasible.”
Ray Esponda, acting director of the Water Department, is already seeking a 5 percent water rate increase for customers, in part based on the amount the department had to pay for water from the Metropolitan District Commission as the city’s reservoirs dipped under 30 percent capacity during the prolonged drought.
Esponda told the Board of Water Commissioners last week that the department needs the rate hike because the water fund was slowly being depleted due to the purchase of water from the MDC and shrinking revenues he thinks were brought on by the city’s call for residents to conserve water. Esponda also said he wants to have a cushion in case the drought continues. City officials said in November, when the water purchase started, that there was plenty of money in the water fund and there would be no rate increase. The Water Department has not asked for a rate hike since 2007.
The waiver would leave a $210,000 hole in his budget, Esponda said Tuesday.
If approved, the move would likely shift the cost of the water the city uses from the city budget to customers of the Water Department. As in Bristol, all New Britain municipal buildings and water sources have meters tracking water and sewer use and the city is issued a bill. Under the proposal, the Water Department would not bill the city and would absorb the cost of city water and sewer use.
“It costs us money to produce water,” said Bristol Water Department Superintendent Robert Longo, whose department bills all Bristol municipal offices and divisions that use water. “We have to treat it, pump it. You have staffing costs and there are no reduced rates for the city. To make it equitable, so the rest of the water customers don’t have to pay for city water use.”
The proposal for the waiver would have to be approved by the council.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@newbritainherald.com.