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Water district gives rate hike approval

A proposed water rate structure overhaul and accompanying fee hike for the Manchester Water District was approved at the board of commissioners’ July meeting.

The rate increase will be effective for next month’s billing cycle, said Alan Fletcher, the district’s general manager. Customers can expect to see bigger bills arriving in October or November, with a typical bill increasing by $6.60 per month, Fletcher said.

The changes simplify the rate structure by cutting the number of tiers in half, and will also funnel more money into the cash-starved district.

“We’ve been losing money for while; we can’t continue to do that,” Fletcher said. “And if you look at all the capitol improvements we’ll have to make in the next few years, there’s no way we’d be able to make it without the increase.”

The new rate structure was designed with input from the community. In May, Fletcher formed an ad-hoc committee with five paying customers.

“Everyone who showed up was appointed (to the committee),” Fletcher said. “We asked for three people to form the committee, five people showed up, so we took them all.”

Though the only citizens to attend the meeting when the rate increase was approved were on the committee, Fletcher said he was satisfied with the community’s involvement.

“We were hoping for more feedback,” he said, “But I think the committee was pretty reflective of (our customers) and their usage.”

Fletcher said he did receive one letter protesting the rate increase, and expects to hear more when customers receive their first higher bills.

“I’m sure we’ll have an active customer call time when the bills start going out,” Fletcher said. “But we made a point of not raising the rates during the hottest part of the year, and I think there was a good understanding of why we had to adjust the rates.”

Fletcher said the district is sending out a comprehensive newsletter describing the changes, along with the reasons why, to all customers.

The new system has only four tiers — down from eight — and will generate an estimated $200,000 in extra revenue each year.

The district, which is supported totally by water rates, has been running a deficit for the last three years. During that time, water officials have had to take nearly $100,000 from the capitol project fund to continue operating.

The revamped tiers include a new “Lifeline” tier, a concept introduced by Fletcher. This tier includes the most basic amount of water the average household needs each month for activities like washing and cooking, set at 400 cubic feet — approximately 3,000 gallons.

“Every household has a basic amount of water it’s going to use,” Fletcher said. “Any water over that, people have the ability to control.”

Lifeline water — anything up to 800 cubic feet per two-month billing period, is billed at the lowest rate: 41.20 per 100 cubic feet (the standard unit).

Although the previous system’s tiers were defined differently, this translates to about a 45 cent increase per water unit.

The second tier bills anything between 801 cubic feet and 3,000 cubic feet at $1.60 per water unit — approximately a 35 -cent to 60 cent increase over the old rates.

The third tier constitutes the biggest jump in water rates: anything between 3,001 and 6,000 cubic feet will cost $2.40 per water unit — a 40 cent to 90 cent increase.

Everything over 6,001 cubic feet will be billed at $3 per water unit — a 50 cent to 75 cent increase over existing rates.

The base service charge, which is levied in addition to water-based fees, will increase from $17 to $22.50 per billing cycle as well.

The Manchester Water District Board of Commissioners will meet at 6 p.m. August 13 at the district’s office at 2081 Spring Street in Manchester.

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