BAR HARBOR — A substantial increase in rates for water customers included in the approved budget for 2016 came up for a public hearing at the Town Council meeting Tuesday per Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) rules.
Rates are set to increase 16.2 percent, said Keith Bourgoin of accounting firm Haverlock, Estey and Curran, who chaired the hearing.
Some of the increase comes from debt service on a bond approved by voters in June to replace the water main along Route 3 during the Department of Transportation’s upcoming project on that road.
Customers may appeal to the PUC. An appeal must be filed by Dec. 17.
Two residents offered comments Tuesday. Peter Keeney asked why residential users are charged the same rates as commercial and industrial customers. Bourgoin said charging different amounts would require new, expensive cost of service studies.
Terri Zabala asked if expansion of water service along Route 3 would require future expansion in the sewerage system. Public Works Director Chip Reeves said the proposed water main replacements along Route 3 don’t include expansion of water service, only conversion of a few seasonal hookups to year-round ones. Some aging equipment would be replaced.
“I foresee very little volume change either from the water side or the sewer side. The sewer system is not being expanded,” Reeves said.
“I understand the town’s between a rock and a hard place,” Zabala said “It’s a great opportunity during the MDOT construction to get in there and do the upgrades and replacement. I know the state isn’t going to shell out money, and the money has to come from somewhere.”
She voiced concerns about the risings costs of electricity, heating, gasoline, food and health care for families on fixed incomes.
“The town has major projects on the horizon with hefty price tags, and I think we should really watch our spending. … Even though affordable housing is a concern for this town, affordable living is a major concern for those of us who live here.”