Wiscasset Water District plans rate hikes

Posted:  Wednesday, May 17, 2017 - 10:00am

The Wiscasset Water District has notified customers it will be filing a revised rate schedule with the Maine Public Utilities Commission. The new rates will be effective July 1.

The district said it last increased its rates after a 2014 Bath Water District increase. Since then, it entered into an agreement with the Bath Water District to establish annual increases, but said it had absorbed over 21 percent in rate increases since 2014.

The water district had also begun a program of replacing century-old water mains.  Some of this was paid for by a $4 million USDA Rural Development grant and loan combination in May 2016, which was supposed to make sure 1,000 residents in Wiscasset, Woolwich and Edgecomb had access to safe and clean drinking water.  When the grant was awarded and the loan was extended, District Superintendent Chris Cossette said the 70 percent of the package that was a loan would cause rates to increase sometime in mid-May.  The work on Gardiner Road and Flood Avenue is part of that program, and work downtown will be engineered when a final plan is drawn up for the Maine Department of Transportation work,

The district is planning a two-step rate increase over two years. Effective July 1, residential rates are slated to go up 17.73 percent; commercial rates, 20.05 percent; governmental agencies, 20.62 percent; and public fire protection, 20 percent.

Then, in July 2018, the rates will go up again. Residential, commercial, and governmental rates will rise another 15 percent, public fire protection rates, 16.67 percent.

The Maine PUC’s Administrative Director Harry Lanphear said in most cases, requests such as these are reviewed and granted. Lanphear briefly reviewed the district’s expenses and revenues, as part of a phone interview, and found that the cost of water had increased significantly over the last three years. “Communities can sign petitions for additional review,” he said. “Fifteen percent of the water district’s customers would have to sign the petition.”

In Wiscasset, that means 98 customers would have to sign it, Town Manager Marian Anderson said at the close of the Board of Selectmen’s meeting May 16. Another 15 percent would have to be generated from Woolwich and Edgecomb customers. Anderson asked selectmen if they would approve her making the petitions available to water district customers.

“It’s not so much even the amount of the rate increase, although that is considerable,” she said. “It’s the timing. We’ve already finalized our budget and we’d have to have a second town meeting to approve the spending for the water bill alone.”

Chairman Judy Colby said, “Not only have we finalized our budget, but the other towns have as well. Woolwich has already had its town meeting, as has Edgecomb. And the county is concerned, too.”

The rate increases would affect the county budget, just recently finalized, and the budgets of every county body, including the jail.

A public hearing will be held May 23 at 6 p.m. at the Wiscasset Water District office at 65 Birch Point Road.

An additional hearing on the village streets where water mains will be replaced with USDA Rural Development funding will be held May 24 at 6 p.m. at Wiscasset Community Center.  Those streets have the last of the 100-year-old water mains. Mains at Danforth, Washington, Pleasant, Water, Hodge, Fort Hill, Summer, Bradbury, High and Union streets will be replaced.