Water rate restructuring upsets some customers
By CHARLOTTE ALBRIGHT
Vermont Public Radio | June 21,2014
The town of Lyndon has changed the way it calculates water bills, and that has nonresidential users upset about rate increases. The town says the rising costs of maintaining its water system demand a new approach.
Until the beginning of this year, 80 percent of the monthly water charge was based on actual consumption, and the other 20 percent was a base rate intended to cover the fixed costs of maintaining the system.
Municipal Administrator Dan Hill said the price of improving the water system has far outstripped the base rates the town had been charging customers.
“That’s not sustainable,” Hill said.
So Lyndon turned that structure upside down. Now 80 percent of a water bill is collected as a base rate, and only 20 percent reflects actual monthly consumption.
Many residential users have seen their monthly water bills stay level or go down, but large users are seeing large increases. Hill said the new system is actually more equitable than the old one.
“But in any restructure, whether it be a reappraisal of land or a restructure of water or sewer, whatever it may be, it’s revenue-neutral in the big picture. But there are always winners and losers,” Hill said.
One of those losers is Mark Bean. He owns three trailer parks in Lyndon. Most of his tenants are elderly and living on fixed incomes.
He said the new rates are forcing him to raise their rents by about $25 a month, and he complained that the new base rate has been unfairly set.
Lyndon’s water department maintains only one water input for each park, and Bean maintains the rest of the infrastructure. Yet Bean said the town is now charging him as if it were carrying that entire maintenance burden. And it’s basing that base rate on old data that does not reflect more recent improvements and investments he and his tenants have made to conserve water.
“And now we turn around and say, ‘Well, you know what, you’ve cut your water consumption in half, done a great job, but we’re going to charge you an extra $25, $28 a month for your efforts.’ That’s not right,” Bean said.
The rent increases are putting Bean at legal loggerheads with his tenants and with the state. His attorney says he could sue the town, if the village trustees don’t lower his rates.
Meanwhile, other large users, including car washes, laundromats and Lyndon State College, are paying as much as twice what they used to pay for water. Lyndon State Associate Dean of Administration Loren Loomis Hubbell said she understands why the town has to change the rate structure to maintain an excellent water system, but she thinks the redistribution of costs is not as fair as it could be.
“We have no complaints at all about the water. We are just concerned about rates,” Hubbell said.
She would like to see a more even split between the base rate and the consumption portion of the bill.
Town officials promise to review the new billing system next year and make adjustments if necessary. They also predict other communities are likely to face similar dilemmas as their antiquated water systems start to deteriorate.