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Keene City Hall

Keene’s Department of Public Works is proposing a change to water rates that would raise the cost for residential customers who use more than what is deemed an “essential” amount of water.

Following a rate study of the city’s water and sewer departments, Keene’s Department of Public Works, along with consulting firm Raftelis, is recommending that the city switch to a two-tier rate system for charging water customers. The proposal is to charge a lower rate for an “essential” amount of water use, while charging a higher rate for anything that goes beyond that threshold.

“The reason that we’re doing this is it helps with affordability, it helps with conservation, ensuring that the city and its customers are using its resources efficiently,” said Dave Fox, senior manager with Raftelis, during a meeting of the Keene City Council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee Thursday night. “It helps provide that affordability for all residential customers, giving them the essential level of consumption at a lower volumetric rate.”

The threshold between essential and non-essential water use would be 4,500 gallons, or 600 cubic feet, a quarter, Fox said.

The recommendation stems from a rate study carried out by the city and Raftelis that started in late 2019 and was completed last year. In addition to keeping water affordable and encouraging conservation, Fox said the proposed two-tier system would help fund needed improvements to the city’s water and sewer infrastructure.

Fox explained that the average resident in Keene — someone who uses around 9,000 gallons of water quarterly — would see an increase of roughly $11.50 in their quarterly water bill, while those who use around 4,500 gallons quarterly could potentially save a dollar or two under the proposed change.

However, those who use a significant amount of water, around 13,500 gallons quarterly, could expect a quarterly increase of roughly $25, he said, noting that these numbers are not final and will ultimately depend on Keene’s budget for fiscal year 2022.

One of the biggest concerns raised about the proposal was brought up by Councilor Raleigh Ormerod, who reminded the committee that in many multi-family homes, there is only one water meter, and residents don’t usually pay the exact amount for their water use. He wondered how those individuals would benefit from this.

He also asked if, because those dwellings consume a great deal of water due to the large number of people being served by a single meter, those residents would be charged the higher rate.

“I’m not sure it’s going to work here,” Ormerod said. “I really like the fact that we’re going to balance the budget, and the water rates need to go up, and that’s really, really important, I’m looking at that as well, too. However, I’m not sure it’s going to hold unless we have done the analysis on the multi-families. That’s what my concern is.”

The committee voted 4-1 to recommend that the council adopt the proposed rate, with Ormerod opposed. If approved by the full council, the rate changes would go into effect July 1.

Mia Summerson can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or msummerson@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter

@MiaSummerson