Middlebury to review utility rates

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectmen next month will review the impact the recently increased municipal water and sewer rates have had on the town’s neediest residents and determine what, if any, adjustments should be made to reduce their financial burden.
Middlebury selectmen last year voted to increase the water and sewer rate fees in wake of growing deficits in those two municipal accounts, owing to the fact that residents have been using less water. Some of the declining use stems from conservation efforts, while some water-dependent businesses have either recently moved out of town or converted to other water sources.
The new quarterly water rate, which took effect in December, amounts to a $30 base fee and $2.98 for every 1,000 gallons used above 3,000 gallons.
The new sewer fee, which also took effect in December, provides a $36 base fee and $7.78 per 1,000 gallons used above 3,000 gallons.
The former town rates consisted of $2.85 per 1,000 gallons of water and $5.94 per 1,000 gallons for sewer service.
Officials projected the water rate bump would result in a $34 quarterly increase for a 3,000-gallon user; an $88 hike for a 7,500-gallon user; and a $7,020 increase for the town’s largest users.
The sewer rate increase was projected to result in a $34-per quarter decrease for a 3,000-gallon user; a $105 increase for a 7,500-gallon user; and a $13,677 hike for the town’s biggest users.
Officials said they realized the water rate increase might have a greater proportional effect on lower-volume users than bigger users. Selectmen have been hoping to attract more businesses into town. The board recently agreed to waive water and sewer connection fees for a planned plant expansion at Green Mountain Beverage, though the company will continue to pay fully for water and sewer use.
Selectmen recently received a letter from resident Linda Malloy, who said she lives month-to-month on a meager income and has suddenly seen her water bill top $100, when it used to be far less.
“My water bill was always below the minimum, because I can’t afford to go over — dishes once a day by hand, laundry one load a week,” Malloy wrote.
Selectmen on Tuesday announced they would further study the water-sewer rates to see what might be done to help people like Malloy.
“I am concerned we have heard from a number of people on low or fixed incomes, and they have obviously felt the effects of the increase in water rates,” said Selectman Victor Nuovo. “We worked hard to come up with a decent solution, but we may have neglected this.”
Nuovo said he’s concerned that water and sewer services are “basic needs” that most people have no choice but to absorb.
“Maybe we didn’t give sufficient attention to people on the lower end of the income scale and the lower end of the (water-sewer) use scale,” he added.
Selectman Craig Bingham agreed. And he noted that this was the first time Middlebury had increased its water-sewer rates in nine years, contributing to the “sticker shock” that some residents felt when they saw their recent bills.
“I think we need to look at (the new rates) and find a way to lessen the impact on people who use water at the minimum level,” Bingham said.
That said, selectmen acknowledge there is little chance they will reopen and revise the water-sewer rates in a major way. But Nuovo hopes the board can find some way to help soften the increases for people who are just getting by.
Middlebury Town manager Bill Finger said town staff will be compiling billing data during the next few weeks to “see if we can discern some sort of pattern” on the impact of the rate increases on smaller users.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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