Middlebury water/sewer rates on the rise
MIDDLEBURY — The average municipal water and sewer user in Middlebury will pay a combined total of $700 for those services this fiscal year, a bump of more than 6.5 percent, or $43, compared to last year, according to figures supplied by the town.
At issue are fiscal year 2020 water and sewer rates recently endorsed by the Middlebury selectboard, rates that are likely to rise further in the coming years as the community takes stock in its aging infrastructure — specifically, water and sewer mains.
“The water system is underfunding its capital improvements by around $575,000 a year, based on life-cycle costs (of related infrastructure),” Middlebury Public Works Planning Director Dan Werner said. “We have 54 miles of water main in an assumed 80-year lifespan. We would need to spend about $784,000 (annually) to sustain the water main replacement program.”
The new water fund budget of $1,473,805 represents a $136,664 increase compared to the last fiscal year that concluded on June 30. Werner noted $109,800 of the increase will be sunk into a capital improvements budget that has historically been shortchanged in order to keep the water rate in check.
In addition to allowing for more capital improvements, the $136,664 increase will cover $6,600 in contracted wage and benefit increases for water department employees, and will allow the town to complete its phase-in of more modern water meters that can be read through cellular technology.
Prior to this latest increase, Middlebury had been budgeting $235,000 annually for water main improvements. The new infusion of $109,800 will being the total to $344,800. The Middlebury Infrastructure Committee will consider future water rate increases during the next five-or-more years in order to get the capital improvement budget to the desired $784,000 level, according to Werner.
Officials believe that could be achieved by fiscal year 2025 with an annual water charge climbing to $543.
The goal, according Werner, is to balance the need for increased capital investment with the impact of rate increases on utility ratepayers of all sizes.
Middlebury’s water rate includes a base fee that is now $50 for in-town users and $55 for out-of-town users. There’s an additional “usage charge” that stands at $3.43 per 1,000 gallons used by in-town customers and $3.63 per 1,000 gallons for out-of-towners.
Here’s how quarterly municipal water charges have changed in recent years for Middlebury’s average residential user, based on 9,300 gallons per quarter:
•Fiscal year 2018 — $63.79.
•Fiscal year 2019 — $72.01.
•Fiscal year 2020 — $81.90.
Meanwhile, the typical residential user of the municipal sewer system will see a new quarterly charge of $93.06, based on 9,300 gallons of use. That’s a $1 increase compared to FY 2019. The new charge includes a base rate of $30, and a “usage” fee of $6.78 per 1,000 gallons used.
The new $2.7 million wastewater budget represents an increase of $73,741 compared to this year that will cover increased administrative charges, a bump of $62,772 for capital improvements, meter upgrades and changes in employee compensation.
The annual Middlebury wastewater charge, for the average residential user, was $354.36 in fiscal year 2018. It was $368.28 in fiscal year 2019, and is now $372.24 based on the selectboard’s decision.
Werner stressed the importance of keeping pace with water and sewer main upgrades. Expensive repairs are often the byproduct of deferred maintenance, Werner noted.
“Residents and businesses want reliability, as in any utility,” Werner said.
The town’s top priority water project right now, according to Werner, is to upgrade a stretch of main at the nexus of Washington Street, Court Square and on Court Street, extending to the Mary Hogan southern driveway.
“We’ve had some expensive repairs in that section,” he said. “We’re in the process of getting engineering proposals for (replacing) that section of water main.”
The state of Vermont will is slated to repave all Class 1 highways in Middlebury in 2021. Plans call for the Washington/Court Street project to dovetail with that paving work.
“We often hear America isn’t investing enough in its infrastructure,” Werner said. “We’re trying to (turn that tide) here.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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