Lewiston City Council approves 20 percent water rate hike

LEWISTON — A 20 percent water rate hike is too much at this time, residents told City Councilors Tuesday.

"I'm truly upset that you want to raise water rates by 20 percent," said Jacqueline Smith of Willow Circle. "Twenty percent! In this day and age, when most people are on a fixed income or haven't gotten a 2 percent raise in years, you people want a 20 percent increase? We have to tighten our budgets. Why can't you tighten your budget?"

Councilors approved the proposed rate hike by a 5-2 vote, with Councilors Mark Cayer and Richard Desjardins opposing it. Councilor Nate Libby was absent from Tuesday's meeting and Mayor Robert Macdonald cast the seventh vote.

The new rates take effect in July.

The proposed increase would boost household water rates for an average single family home using 1,200 gallons of water from $38.40 per quarter to $45.60. Lewiston's current quarterly rate is about $1 less than Bangor's rate, $10 less than Portland's rate and $11 less than Brunswick's quarterly rate.

The proposed would make Lewiston's quarterly rate slightly higher than that of Portland.

Lewiston last increased water rates in 2010.

The proposed 20 percent water rate increase is designed to stave off a $654,555 projected deficit next year. It's also designed to cover increased costs from the new Lake Auburn Ultraviolet Water Treatment system and pay for increased electrical rates from Central Maine Power, according to Public Works Director Dave Jones.

Jones said that there is little room for meaningful cuts in the budget that wouldn't either affect water quality at the tap or at the source.

"We could not replace our cast iron pipes, but that's the source of the brown and red water folks complain about," Jones said. "We're trying to replace those, but we don't do enough now. Or we could not fund the bird control we are doing out at Lake Auburn, but that would generate a federal requirement to build a filtration plant."

The department and the Auburn Water District share a federal waiver from having to filter the municipal water that comes from Lake Auburn, since it has been deemed clean. Losing that waiver would require building an expensive treatment plant, and Jones said that could triple Lewiston's water rates.

"There just is not as much flexibility as you might think," Jones said.

But former City Councilor Tom Peters said there must be a way to reduce those rates, and he urged the city to find it.

"Landlords cannot afford to have the rates go up," Peter said. "They can't fix their buildings now, and they can't afford to do the stuff they have to do."

staylor@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Mike Lachance's picture

Unbelievable... But it proves that....

...at least 2 councilors have a brain - and the Mayor must have forgot his at home. Sorry Bob, bad call.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Oh well, and I mean deep....

I will be passing off that increase to my tenants since I supply the water and I can tell them, blame it on the City Council...

You guys make it so easy for me to also give them your names and I will again remind them at election time about who and why they had to cut down on showers, flushing and washing clothes.

You schmucks really did yourselves in on this one....

David Jones's picture

Philip's Question

Philip - good & reasonable question! I don't have the exact figures in front of me, but generally 90-95% of the accounts are current with their bills. This is pretty good and excceds what other similar utilities experience. If you would like more details e -mail me from the City website.

PHILIP LAINE's picture

The proposed 20 percent water

The proposed 20 percent water rate increase is designed to stave off a $654,555 projected deficit next year. My question is how much of this deficit is due to people not paying when they get their bill?

David Jones's picture

Water Rate Perspective

Folks, I agree 20% sounds high but we need to ensure we understand what that means.

1st, the rate increase only applies to the water portion of the quarterly bills customers receive. It does not apply to the sewer or stormwater charges on the bill.

2nd, For about half of our customers who do not use a lot of water and pay the minimum charge (which includes most if not all of our senior citizens on fixed incomes) this amounts to $2.40 per month. This is the same cost as two 1-Gallon jugs of water at Shaws or Hannafords.

3rd, the increase is a result of projects we need to complete to meet state & federal regulatory requirements such as:
* the bird/gull control at Lake Auburn, which if we do not do we would likely be required to construct a filtration plant that would likely triple the rates we now have;
* the joint Lewiston & Auburn UV treatment plant and the chloramine disinfection plant, which meets the current treatment requirements;
* the pipe replacement and clean & line projects to address red & dirty brown water issues resulting from unlined cast iron pipes. Quite frankly, we are not replacing old pipe fast enough to keep up with this issue.

These are not nice to have items that a little "belt tightening" will pay for. We agree 20% sounds like a big increase, but we need to have some perspective.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Will you swear on a bible to that

It does not apply to the sewer or stormwater charges on the bill.????????

Because that will be the next step.....

Who paid for me to install and pipe mine to the street for the rainwater....me and then now my tenants....

It all comes down to those that can't meet the rents and I charge far below what I could, because I believe in no being a greedy ;landlord....so my small profits are taken still and goes to the city....

MARC A JALBERT's picture

Water cost increase:

I found this to go through like crap through a goose.

It amazes me at how given the initial outrage expressed in the article, it certainly wasn’t a factor that the councilors considered. Do you get the idea that this was a slam dunk? Duh!

My only question of relevance has to do with sewer charges? There hasn’t been any talk about this, but as we all know that doesn’t negate any possibilities? Are they going up as well? We’ve always been told that what comes in goes out. Are these services truly separate, or are they connected at the hip?

In conclusion I can only add that this is another example of the need for more from those with the least. I am not only referring to us on fixed incomes, I am referring to most people in Lewiston. Wages do not go up at a 20% rate and yet this is alright? Retirees went up a whole 1.7% this year. That certainly makes it easy for us to pay 20% more for water. What’s next? It becomes very difficult to keep your home when this kind of reasoning exists.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

We've been warned

At least we were warned before we had time to plant anything that needs watering. Holy smokes this will really hurt people who actually use water. Has Central Maine Power actually gotten the rate increase yet?

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

A 20% water rate increase is

A 20% water rate increase is the equivalent of a slap to the face, a karate kick to the groin, and a Louisville Slugger to the back of the head all at once, to the average Lewiston water rate payer. What was the City Council's objective? To come up with a rate that would be higher than Portland's?
It isn't bad enough that they've nailed us with a rain tax, (which of course, isn't a tax...just ask them), and now they do this? Absolutely shameful.

Mary  Robinson's picture

TAKE THE FLUORIDE OUT!

If you are going to make me pay more for water. Take the fluoride out! I spend about $60 a month to treat and filter the tap water in my home. So poisons like fluoride don't effect my son. Now you are increasing how much I pay for chemically treated CRAP! Come on!!! Make it worth it. Stop dumping chemicals in our water!

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