Res­i­dents against wa­ter, sewer rate hike

Curb­ing in­creases with fund bal­ance no longer an op­tion, of­fi­cial says

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Cas­san­dra Day

MIDDLETOWN — A large hike in Novem­ber wa­ter and sewer bills, prompt­ing mul­ti­ple com­plaints and some out­rage from home­own­ers this week, is a re­sult of the city’s mem­ber­ship in the re­gional sewer au­thor­ity, which vot­ers ap­proved dur­ing 2011 through 2015 ref­er­enda.

Bond mea­sures to­tal­ing some $55 mil­lion were given the go-ahead over the last few elec­tion cy­cles, Mayor Dan Drew said in a re­cent Face­book post. Th­ese loans, as well as one for the $13 mil­lion buyin pay­ment to the Mat­tabas­sett District in Cromwell, are be­gin­ning to come due, said Di­rec­tor of the Middletown Wa­ter & Sewer Depart­ment Joe Fazz­ino.

The plant pro­cesses waste from New Bri­tain, Ber­lin, Cromwell, Middletown, New­ing­ton, Rocky Hill and Farm­ing­ton.

Peo­ple com­ment­ing on Drew’s post are re­port­ing sev­eral is­sues: some bills have in­creased by 600 per­cent, oth­ers are $200 more than the last cy­cle, and some bills have more than tripled since May 2017.

The in­crease is also caused by the “multi-year, bi­lat­eral di­rec­tional drilling project to pump all of Middletown’s non-sep­tic wastew­a­ter to the Cromwell plant, and the con­struc­tion of a new pump sta­tion to in­take the wastew­a­ter and pump it one mile un­der­ground to Cromwell,” Drew said.

There, sewage will be treated and the “ef­flu­ent (which, the­o­ret­i­cally, is clean enough to drink) is re­leased into the Con­necti­cut River.

The money will also be used to dis­as­sem­ble the be­yond-its-use­ful life sewage treat­ment plant on the river­bank in Middletown di­rectly op­po­site down­town (built in the late 50s),” he wrote.

To find out the true in­crease, Fazz­ino said, tax­pay­ers should com­pare the cur­rent bill with the one they re­ceived a year ago. “It’s not a glitch. It’s usu­ally a sea­sonal is­sue. May bills re­flect the win­ter months, when wa­ter use de­clines, and fall bills are from the sum­mer months,” the di­rec­tor said. “It could be due to wa­ter­ing (lawns) or gar­den­ing, or is­sues with leaks in their house to com­pound all that,” Fazz­ino said.

New rates, which went into ef­fect in Jan­uary, prompted a 22 per­cent rise in com­bined fees: wa­ter is up 7 per­cent, and sewer, al­most 15 per­cent. How­ever, be­tween 2011 and 2015 tax­pay­ers ap­proved the mea­sures by “over­whelm­ing mar­gins of be­tween 4:1 and 5:1. The to­tal au­tho­riza­tion of spend­ing by the vot­ers in­cludes a com­bi­na­tion of bonded debt, loans from the state and grants from the state,” Drew said in his post.

Res­i­dents were no­ti­fied through a press re­lease, a pub­lic no­tice in the pa­per, as well as pub­lic hear­ing, Fazz­ino said. Peo­ple shouldn’t be sur­prised at what they owe, he added. “The project went out to a ref­er­en­dum, and it’s time to start pay­ing for the first half of the loan. Then, when we fin­ish up the pump sta­tion, we’ll have a clos­ing on the sec­ond half of the loan,” Fazz­ino said.

And things won’t be get­ting bet­ter. “Over the next cou­ple years, we’ll have to raise the rates even higher,” said Fazz­ino, who said he does sym­pa­thize with res­i­dents.

An­other fac­tor in rates ris­ing might be a faulty wa­ter me­ter. Some­times, wa­ter and sewer crews rely on an es­ti­ma­tion of each house­hold’s wa­ter con­sump­tion. In that case, the charge is made based upon the pre­vi­ous me­ter read­ings when the de­vice was in work­ing or­der, ac­cord­ing to the web­site.

“We’ve tried to keep the rates low in the past by us­ing some of our fund bal­ance. We just got to a point last year where we couldn’t do that any­more: We have to raise rates,” Fazz­ino said.

Tax­pay­ers also will have to pay for the Fran­cis T. Pat­naude In­ter-mu­nic­i­pal Pump­ing Sta­tion project now un­der­way on East Main Street, as well as the de­com­mis­sion­ing of the River Road fa­cil­ity now used to process waste. Once that hap­pens, the city will be able to take ad­van­tage of its sweep­ing views of the Con­necti­cut River by free­ing up valu­able real es­tate.

The mayor said con­cerns about us­age rates “well be­yond what you be­lieve is re­al­is­tic,” are be­ing taken “very se­ri­ously,” adding he has asked Fazz­ino to au­dit a sam­ple of the bills, specif­i­cally the us­age, due to some ab­nor­mal­i­ties in those num­bers that have been re­ported, Drew said in the post.

“Those changes were re­quired by CT DEEP un­der con­sent or­der, but they are also nec­es­sary to re­build our river­front. While the rates did in­crease… the in­crease does not come close to ac­count­ing for what many of you have re­ported to me. There­fore, we are tak­ing a se­ri­ous look at it,” Drew wrote.

Mean­while, Fazz­ino wants home­own­ers to ex­am­ine their bills, some of which re­flect a higher con­sump­tion rate, be­cause it may in­di­cate a prob­lem with their me­ters. “If a leak is get­ting worse, we can ad­dress it. It would be some­thing we would dis­cuss with them so they can con­tact their plumber,” he said.

“If there is some­thing re­ally out of whack, our guys would go out and check the me­ter and make sure they’re isn’t an is­sue. Usu­ally, 99 per­cent of the time, the me­ter is cor­rect,” Fazz­ino said. “It’s one of th­ese things where peo­ple don’t re­al­ize they’re us­ing wa­ter (so much) un­til they get their bill,” he added.

Agree­ments be­tween towns and the DEEP have prompted com­plaints from mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties for years, Drew said. “Th­ese con­sent or­ders have come as part of the state’s man­date to re­duce ni­tro­gen emis­sions into our water­ways. Our only other choice, other than join­ing the Cromwell plant and send­ing our wastew­a­ter there, would have been to build a brand new sewage treat­ment plant here. That would have cost more than $140 mil­lion,” he said.

Join­ing the Mat­tabas­sett was cheaper than build­ing a new plant, the mayor added. “That’s a choice of $68 mil­lion plus a new Middletown river­front or $140 mil­lion with­out a river­front,” he said.

For billing in­quiries, res­i­dents may email Su­per­vi­sor of Ac­count Man­age­ment Jerry Bru­ton at jerry.bru­ton@mid­dle­townct.gov or call 860-638-3501.

Cas­san­dra Day / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Middletown wa­ter and sewer rates rose this year, which is re­flected in the Novem­ber bills.

Cas­san­dra Day / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Work is mov­ing along on the Fran­cis T. Pat­naude In­ter-mu­nic­i­pal Pump­ing Sta­tion on East Main Street in Middletown. The project will hook the city’s sewer sys­tem up to the Mat­tabas­sett District wa­ter treat­ment plant on Main Street in Cromwell and is es­ti­mated to be com­pleted by July 2019.

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