Sewer rate rises again

  • Orange Town Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 2/11/2019 7:25:55 AM

ORANGE — The town sewer rate was just increased, and will cost a typical user an extra $70 a year.

The rate was set at $6.90 per 100 cubic feet, up from $5.85, the rate that took effect last October.

The rate hike is being touted by the sewer commissioners — the members of the Selectboard — Wastewater Treatment Facility Chief Operator Edward Billiel Jr. and engineering consultant David Prickett as a way to save residents money in the long run.

The 18 percent rate increase brings the average annual cost of sewer per household to $461, up from $391, an estimated additional $70, according to Prickett of DPC Engineering, who gave a presentation to the sewer commissioners recently.

The increase is needed for several reasons, Prickett said. First, Orange is in the midst of a $13,542,000 upgrade to its Wastewater Treatment Facility, a 1977 plant running with equipment that is no longer produced, according to Billiel, who said he has had to order replacement parts on eBay.

“We still have motors down there that are 40 years old, that are running, but one of these days they’re not going to run and that’s going to cause huge problems,” Billiel said.

The project is expected to wrap up in the 2022 fiscal year, at which point rates will go up even more. The question is by how much.

If the town can get grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which would pay for 20 to 75 percent of the total project cost, rates would become somewhere from $8.13 to $11.43 per 100 cubic feet by July 2022. Without grants, and using conventional financing methods like borrowing, the rate could become $16.15 per hundred cubic feet, a 276 percent increase from the rate in effect just last week.

That’s where the latest sewer rate increase comes in, because Orange wouldn’t be eligible for the grant money without it.

For the grants the town is seeking, the USDA requires the town’s average annual sewer cost per household to be at least 1 percent of the median household income. With the new rate, Orange can break that threshold and “make as strong of a case” as possible for a grant, Prickett said. The $6.90 rate is expected to stay the same through at least June 2020.

Besides the impending upgrade to the Wastewater Treatment Facility, another reason for raising the rates is the facility is running a deficit — a deficit of around $20,000 that would double by next summer without the rate increase.

The facility has no retained earnings, but, with the rate increase, will have around $102,000 in retained earnings next summer. Prickett said even that isn’t much money.

“A $100,000 is a lot of money for most things in the world, but not to run a wastewater facility,” Prickett said, adding that a sewer break or issue at the treatment plant would not take long to consume $100,000, “especially on an emergency basis.”

The public hearing about the rate increase did include some pushback, especially from resident Rhonda Bartlett.

“I almost fell out of my chair tonight when I saw we were going from $5.85, which I thought was $5.75, to $6.90,” Bartlett said, noting that there was a 25 cent rate increase just last fall.

Bartlett said cuts should be considered if there are deficits, but not rate increases.

“I just know the tax bills that just came out, everyone’s bill went up, and they went up a lot, and it creates bitterness among the taxpayers,” Bartlett said. “We never seem to have enough.”

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.




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