Higher Water Bills Draw Complaints From Customers
McConnellsburg Borough Council members weighed in on water bills at their regular meeting last Wednesday evening, responding to what they say have been numerous complaints they have received about sharp increases in the bills.
Borough secretary Jack Fields said the increases have hit hard considering the current economy and the fact that so many borough residents live on a fixed income.
Councilwoman Pat Frazier said that although she understands the need for the rate increase, she feels that customers should have been given fair warning about the increase.
The Municipal Water Authority did give advance notice in a newspaper article in July 2007 when it was announced that increases would be necessary to pay for the $6.5 million upgrade to the authority’s water supply and distribution system. However, some feel that the announcement was too long ago and that notification to customers should have been made prior to the latest round of bills.
The project, which included a new water treatment plant, 2.5 miles of new pipeline and a 12-inch water main that ties into the existing 6-inch main, was completed earlier this year and now the bills for the project have to be paid. At the time of the announcement, authority members said that with growth and development in and around McConnellsburg, the water system had to expand to keep up with growth and to upgrade the aging infrastructure.
Bills dated July 1, 2010, reflected an increase in the minimum cost, which does not include water. According to authority secretary Dianne Stenger, the minimum cost in 2008 was $19.58 per quarter. It was increased to $25.35 per quarter in 2009 and now effective with the July 2010 billing has been increased to $32.96 per quarter for a five-eighths-inch meter.
In addition to the minimum, water use is then billed at $.0537 for every cubic foot of water for the first 6,000 cubic feet of water used. Rates increase slightly when water usage exceeds 6,000 cubic feet.
For many years prior to the upgrade, minimum costs were $11-$15 per quarter and the minimum rate included 30 cubic feet of water.
Tapping fees have also increased significantly from $500 to $2,100.
In spite of the increase in water bills, the project, which was originally estimated to cost $7.5 million, has come in approximately $1 million under budget, according to project engineer Jamie Shambaugh of Gannett Fleming. The $6.5 million project was paid for by a $2.5 million grant and a $4 million low-interest loan through the state Department of Community and Economic Development’s PennWorks Program. Up to $5 million had been available in loans, but the maximum amount will not be needed for the project.
Shambaugh called the financial package “a good one” and said that only so much money is available in grants and that amount is determined after potential rates have been calculated. Grants are limited in order to make water bills equitable across the board so that everyone pays something for water. He also said that the authority’s bills are still lower than many in the area.
For example, for a residential customer with a fiveeighths inch meter, a Pennsylvania American Water bill would be $58.80 per quarter (compared to the authority’s $32.96). For consumption of 10,000 gallons per quarter, the Municipal Authority’s customer bill would be approximately $100 per quarter. A Pennsylvania American Water bill for the three months would be approximately $140. Pennsylvania American Water, a wholly owned subsidiary of American Water is the largest investor-owned water utility in the state, providing high-quality, reliable water and/or wastewater services to more than 2 million people in more than 380 communities in 35 counties across the state
Stenger said that customers need to realize that the more water you use, the more it is going to cost. She also said that customers need to check for leaks in the toilet, malfunctions that would cause the toilet to run continuously and water faucet drips. “Those things can really increase your water usage,” she said.
Stenger said the authority has not decided if there will be any further rate increases in upcoming years. Although it comes during tough economic times, for many authority customers, the water bill still amounts to less than $1 per day – still cheaper than one bottle of water at the local convenience store.