The rate for using water in Bristol and Warren went up Wednesday night by a little more than a $1 a week, based on the average bill of $500 last year for drinking, showers, laundry and lawn watering.
The board of the Bristol County Water Authority raised rates by 11 percent for one year after failing to agree on any of several five-year rate plans. They actually voted down an initial motion for a one-year, 11 percent hike, too.
After failing to agree on rate hikes of 11-4-4-4-4 and 10-4-4-4-4 over the next five years, they finally got the 7-2 supermajority needed to raise the price of water for one year. Chairman Allan Klepper of Barrington suggested the one-year hike twice; he got the votes he needed on the second go-round.
“I’m pleased with the 11 percent,” said Executive Director Pamela Marchand. “It will be the one big bump for a while.”
The proposed 4 percent increases over the four years after 2013 “were never automatic increases,” she said. New battles would have been fought anyway.
But with the 11 percent rate hike, Marchand said, “we can get to the summer work on water quality, the smaller water quality projects, which will make a dramatic difference in water quality.”
The summer projects include improving pump stations cleaning and replacing water mains, she said. They are all part of a long-range strategic plan to improve the infrastructure.
The authority’s obsolete management information system also can be upgraded with the new cash generated by the rate increase, she said.
The water authority also won’t be running out of money to pay its operating expenses, she said, which would have been a possibility without an immediate and significant percentage boost in water rates.
Board members failed to agree on any of the five-year rate plans because of differences of opinion over the size of the first-year rate hike and the longer term needs for the hiring of a project manager, operating engineer and MIS professional.
Paul Bishop of Bristol suggested a 5-year plan that called for percentage increases in each year of the plan of 11-4-4-4-4.
“The system needs major work,” he said. “It will cost less than $4 a month for the average ratepayer.”
Board member Frank Sylvia of Bristol said he thought a 9-3-3-3-3 plan would still work.
Ray Palmieri of Warren disagreed.
“The system has been neglected way too long,” he said. “We need to bring it into this century.”
Robert Allio of Barrington said: “We can’t continue to just get by.” He criticized Sylvia for having an “irresponsible attitude,” which he said was making the discussion “personal.”
Allio said it is personal.
“It’s essential we support the budget, which represents the minimum rate increase needed to continue operations,” he said. “A strategic plan fails when you don’t have the resources to carry it out.”
John Jannitto of Warren thought a 9-4-4-4-4 plan would be sufficient if the board didn’t approve several new positions.
Joe DeMelo of Bristol agreed the “the infrastructure stinks” and “it’s too easy to say people can’t afford the rate increase.” But he still said he had questions about the 5-year plans and wouldn’t vote for them without more information.
Kevin Fitta of Barrington, perhaps the biggest supporter of Marchand’s effort to upgrade the water system, said he supported the 11-4-4-4-4 plan because “it is not an arbitrary increase. It’s well thought-out, recommended by professionals, and the best decision for ratepayers.
“We’re taking all the right steps,” he said. “It’s the correct path for the future.”
Bill Gosselin of Warren said he supported the 11-4-4-4-4 with two conditions: the last four years not be automatic increases, and the proposed new positions be brought back to the board before anyone is hired.
Marchand said the new positions she proposes “will save us money.”
In-house professionals will be much cheaper in the long run than hiring consultants, Marchand explained.
“We’re labor intensive, and we’re severely understaffed,” she said. “We’re not doing things adequately.”
Klepper used a quote from Winston Churchill to push for the 11-percent rate hike for one year: “We’ve got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”
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