SOUTHWEST HARBOR — When a new, independent Water and Sewer District took over those systems from the town a couple of years ago, it inherited a half-million dollar liability and systems that needed a lot of work, its leaders said at a public meeting last week.
The district has been making steady progress in addressing maintenance and other issues and improving the billing system, they said, but the 10 percent sewer rate increase set to take effect July 1 is absolutely necessary.
“I don’t think there’s anyone getting a free ride,” trustee Jim Geary said. Nationally, water and sewer rates have increased an average of 5.5 percent every year over the last decade, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal that Geary shared at the meeting. The last rate increase here was in 2015.
Only one sewer customer attended the public meeting, held at the fire station Thursday, to discuss the rate change.
“Ten percent is a huge jump on something I have no way of regulating,” property owner Melissa Berry said.
She said the current rate structure gives residential customers no incentive to conserve water, since customers using less than a certain base amount don’t pay according to what they use.
“I have no reason not to run my shower and lawn sprinkler all day. I’ll never get close to the base amount.”
The board did consider the current rate structure as they debated the rate change, Geary said. “We decided the most equitable way to do it was a flat, across-the-board [increase].”
“You could do the whole thing on cubic feet,” trustee Lee Worcester said, “but then you would probably have a higher per-cubic-foot rate, and you wouldn’t save a nickel.”
District manager Steve Kenney said while conserving water is a good goal, it doesn’t help the system’s finances. Many of the district’s customers are installing “deduct” meters for water used to water lawns that’s not going into the sewer system.
If a lower volume of water goes into the sewer system, he said, “it’s costing you more per gallon. It’s the spiraling cost of conservation.”
It was the last meeting for trustee Don Lagrange, outgoing Southwest Harbor town manager. The new district and the improvements it has achieved are due in large part to his work over the years, trustees said.