The Keene City Council approved new water and sewer rates Thursday, despite one councilor’s concerns about the hikes to residential water customers’ fixed meter fees.
During their meeting that night, the council voted 14-1 to approve an ordinance with the new rates, which include a slight increase to the volumetric rate for water — which pertains to the amount of water consumed — and varying increases to the fixed quarterly rates assigned to different-sized water meters.
The sole vote in opposition was that of Councilor Mike Remy, who pointed out that the fixed rates for the smallest water meters will about triple, while those for large meters are rising by a smaller margin.
“It ends up where your lower water-usage residential [customers] could be seeing [bill] increases like 26, 27 percent ... because that fixed increase is so much,” he said. “Where everybody who’s in the higher usage area and [has a] larger size meter really is more of a 12 percent increase.”
The city needs to raise water revenues this year by about 20 percent and sewer revenues by about 6 percent, according to Public Works Director Kürt Blomquist. The volumetric rate for sewer service is going up from $5.31 to $6.29 per 100 cubic feet, or nearly 750 gallons, while fixed meter rates are going down.
For water, the smallest meter sizes used in the city are five-eighths and three-quarters of an inch and are generally used in smaller residential buildings. The fixed quarterly rates for these meters are going up from $7.29 and $10.50 to $24.36 and $36.53, respectively.
Meanwhile, the largest two meter sizes are 4- and 6-inch meters, and serve larger commercial operations. The fixed rates for those meters are going up from $297.97 and $671.86 per quarter to $608.88 and $1,217.76, respectively.
Customers’ meter size will be part of what determines exactly how much their water bill goes up, according to Blomquist. But for an average residential customer, he said the change won’t amount to much more than a few dollars per month.
At first, Remy moved to amend the rate ordinance to include a flat increase for water meters of all sizes in whatever amount would meet the needs of the water and sewer budgets.
However, Mayor George Hansel recommended that Remy instead move to send the rate ordinance back to committee for further discussion, saying it would be difficult to amend the ordinance on the spot without having time to crunch the numbers. Remy declined to do this and, citing concerns that the rates wouldn’t be approved in time for the next billing cycle, withdrew his suggestion.
“I know, from a budget perspective, we need the increase in there, “ Remy said. “I’m just disappointed that we’re taking a whack at the small residential [consumers].”
The question of how the city would bill for its water and sewer services has taken a number of turns in recent months. Originally, city staff put forth a proposal that would have included a so-called “lifeline rate,” charging a lower volumetric amount for residential water use under a certain threshold and a higher amount for any subsequent use.
However, that idea was defeated, and councilors decided to go forward with a flat volumetric water rate instead, which the council approved last month. That rate is going up from $4.78 to $5.06 per 100 cubic feet.
Another earlier amendment was suggested by Councilor Mitch Greenwald, who raised concerns about increasing the fee for fire-protection lines, which provide water to the sprinkler systems in larger buildings. Councilors voted to amend the ordinance to exclude increases for fire protection lines.
Though she ultimately voted in favor of the rate ordinance presented to the council Thursday, Councilor Bettina Chadbourne sympathized with Remy’s concerns. She said she wasn’t sure the council had done its due diligence.
“I don’t think we looked at it thoroughly enough or asked the right questions,” she said.