Residents against water, sewer rate hike
Curbing increases with fund balance no longer an option, official says
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 860-638-3501.
Middletown water and sewer rates rose this year, which is reflected in the November bills.
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.