Trumbull's Old WPCA Billing Flushed

Irrigation system owners could reduce their Water Pollution Control Authority bills by installing a second water meter in their home and paying Aquarion instead.

Trumbull's Water Pollution Control Authority has approved a controversial change to billl based on "actual" versus "average" water usage.

The decision was made at the panel's March meeting, after several public hearings. 

"The first summer quarterly billing will be determined by 'actual' consumption," said Joe Solemene, assistant WPCA administrator.

Residents can opt to install secondary meters for specific tasks, such as irrigation.

"The Trumbull WPCA with cooperation by the Aquarion Water Company is developing a solution for residents primarily with irrigation systems.  They will have an option of installing a second water meter used exclusively for outdoor watering.  A clear understanding for acquiring a second Aquarion water meter including the costs and regulations for separate billing of this second metered system has not been developed," Solemene said Wednesday.

"Mr. Jeffrey P. Farrell, Director of Business Improvement and Customer Advocate has asked that the residents 'hold off' from contacting Aquarion Water Company until this process has been established," Solemene added.  

The Last Hearing

Reaction at the last hearing, in February, was mixed about about the WPCA's changed billing process (still a proposal at the time).

Currently, 8,800 ratepayers pay about $500,000 to cover water usage by 1,000 high-usage WPCA customers such as Bryce Bollert of Fern Circle, who uses an irrigation system.

But Bollert says since he pays for services he doesn't use, the current billing system is fair.

"The system we have in place is the best for now," he said.

Cindy Katske, another irrigation system user, called the proposal "unfair and overly burdensome to homeowners with irrigation systems."

"We will be again be charged for water that doesn't need to be treated," she added.

Customers who install a second meter would pay for installation, while Aquarion would provide the meter. Customers would pay $140 a year for maintenance.

High-usage customers' WPCA bills could rise $400 to $500 if the proposal is approved and they don't purchase a meter. But buying a meter would be optional, WPCA officials stressed.

Katske also objected that the WPCA is appointed rather than elected, so ratepayers don't have representation.

"This I think is inviting a lawsuit or could result in lots of brown lawns. Please go back to the drawing board," she said.

Jon Greene of Topaz Lane said he does not use the sewer system but said the "big winner" would be Aquarion in the second meter proposal.

Town Attorney Dennis Kokenos and Public Works Director John Marsilio defended the proposal, citing how much Trumbull ratepayers have paid Bridgeport already to treat the town's sewage. The sewage treatment contract with Bridgeport expires in June.

Marsilio, who worked for Bridgeport before joining Trumbull, said he negotiated the contract while employed by Bridgeport. It took seven years because the matter ended up in court.

WPCA officials added that Aquarion has been "extremely cooperative and helpful" in considering customers who wash their cars, fill their pools and water their lawns from the house.

Marsilio also downplayed concerns that Bridgeport would try to increase its rates if it loses the extra $500,000 a year it gets from Trumbull ratepayers. A judge would probably question such a request, Marsilio said.

"I don't think there's a judge anywhere that would allow Bridgeport to penalize Trumbull," he said.

Carmela D'Aquila of Valley View Road said she does not water her lawn and conserves water.

Another speaker asked if Bridgeport has the same billing problem as Trumbull. Marsilio replied that of 40,000 dwellings, about 600 have irrigation systems.

Kristy Waizenegger April 05, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Throughout the last meeting, the members of the WPCA repeatedly referenced those residents with irrigation systems AND pools. However, in the last few minutes of the last public meeting, we were told that the second meter can only be used for those with irrigation systems. Under the new plan, the water I put in my pool, NONE of which goes into the sewers, will now be subject to sewer useage fees. How is this fair?
jg April 05, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Kristy, I thought that was changed and a second meter can be obtained for any outdoor use (but see #2 below). My concerns are: (1) I still read the Bridgeport contract as requiring payment for all water use to the property. I hope the WPCA is right that Bpt. won't disagree with their interpretation. (2) Aquarion meters must be split off at the input so some will have to significantly re-pipe their basements at great expense, particularly if it is finished. (3) There is a non-Aquarion alternative that could have been used. Some towns permit a second subtraction meter that could be put anywhere but we'd have to put in a process for users to send in readings and to audit (still sounds like less than $145 annually to me). (4) Homeowners will also have to pay to take out the Aquarion meter if the new contract uses a different method. (5) How much time do users have to install a second meter once the processes are in place? (6) What is the notification method?
Kristy Waizenegger April 05, 2012 at 02:04 PM
I have not heard anything definitive on the supposed change in policy regarding the change in policy for the second meter to include those with pools, just that it was being looked at.
jg April 05, 2012 at 02:30 PM
I'm pretty sure that the WPCA chair announced at the final public hearing that Aquarion had agreed to the change. Frankly, I'm not sure why Aquarion had to do so as it's essentially a matter of the homeowner establishing a second account per the already approved rate structure, but they did. I called the gentleman at Aquarion that was at the public hearing at Madison with some questions and he was very helpful and informative. I don't think it's the same gentleman referenced in the article but I dig out my notes and find out if you wish to call him.
Kristy Waizenegger April 05, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Either way, residents will now be charged sewer useage fees for water that doesn't even go into the sewers unless one incurs additional costs to prove otherwise. If high consumption users are truly the root cause of this problem, certainly there was a better way to address this.
Cindy Katske April 05, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Kristy, I am in complete agreement with you. To avoid the unfair billing procedure, I will now (actually not yet, but when?) have to pay to install a second meter and pay Aquarion a quarterly fee on top of that. And I can't even vote out the people that made this decision!
Thomas Tesoro April 05, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Cindy, That is the real irritant here, the WPCA is an unelected body with taxing authority and no accountability. Why didn't the Charter revision Commission make this an elected (and accountable body)? By the way, as in most things now, the vast majority of residents have no idea this is coming. The lack of transparancy is appalling. I hope my neighbors like brown grass.....
Thomas Tesoro April 05, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Think abouts, you, the user will either have to buy a new meter and the associated fees or pay through the nose for doing what you have been doing for years. Where is the fairness here...who is fighting for the residents of Trumbull or do we only care about the "snow birds".
Scot Kerr April 05, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Just a point of information to save some of you who are facing the decision from doing the math yourselves: Based on a $4.36 / CCF sewer usage fee (which you should see on your last bill), the break even point for maintaining a second meter is 32 CCF (that's 32 hundred cubic feet of water) over the course of the year. That's the amount you'd have to determine is outdoor use to make the second meter pay for itself each year. Assuming the one time costs to change the plumbing are $1,500 and you use 60 CCF over a summer for outdoor activities, the payback on that investment is <6 yrs. I know this doesn't make those of you in this position feel any better, but hopefully it clarifies the costs a bit.
Thomas Tesoro April 05, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Can anyone explain why residents are being charged for water that will never reach the sewers? When this comes up all you get is the evasive song and dance. As I said, join the brown lawn/dirty car club and when the car gets really dirty write on the side "Brought to you by the WPCA"
jg April 05, 2012 at 08:05 PM
The problem is that our billing method (using winter usage to model indoor summer usage) nominally doesn't match our contract with Bridgeport, which says we paid on metered water usage "to the property." Then again, neither does this plan unless "to the property" means "to the house" (versus a more strict interpretation that it is your entire property in which case this plan will lead to a court case). If they truly agree with that interpretation why couldn't we just get them to agree with our existing billing method? A simple web search shows that it's an accepted method with many communities using winter volumes to model summer usage to the house. If the problem is a small group of snowbirds why don't we just establish a standard that houses which don't use a minimum amount of winter water (say 10 ccf or some other reasonable figure) in any quarter will billed for actual usage. That would mean only a handful might require separate meters. Is anyone actually talking to Bridgeport and negotiating these issues or are we doing things unilaterally? When I tried to ask these questions at the hearing Mr. Marsillio basically said, "I negotiated this contract for Bridgeport so I know what it means."
Tom Kelly April 05, 2012 at 09:19 PM
The WPCA really failed Trumbull residents, and I think this body is underestimating the backlash that these higher bills are going to cause. Scot, you provide very valuable and objective cost information there. The question is why would anyone in their right mind make such an investment when the contract with Bridgeport expires in 3 months and we have no idea what the next contract will say on this topic. Hopefully, a more equitable system will be set forth in the next contract so that RESIDENTS ARE NOT CHARGED FOR WATER THAT NEVER ENTERS THE SEWER SYSTEM. But that's exactly the remedy the WPCA proposes. And now we hear from them that Aquarion is not ready to discuss this with Trumbull residents....BUT...the WPCA is implementing it anyway. Do we care about senior citizens who water their gardens and lawns regularly? No. Do we care about the 15% of Trumbull homes which have a pool? No. Do we care about the 10% of Trumbull homes which have irrigation systems? No. The entire WPCA was appointed by Tim Herbst. They are only accountable to him, as they are not elected by the voters. This is an egregious imposition of additional fees on a large number of Trumbull households. And the only Republican elected officials who have had the guts to say that it isn't right are Dave Pia and Kristy Waizenegger. If the elected leaders don't stand up for their constituents, who will?
jg April 05, 2012 at 11:56 PM
To be fair to the WPCA, Trumbull is already paying for water that never enters the sewer system under the current contract to the tune of about a 1/2 million dollars per year. This plan is their attempt to reduce that number. Furthermore, they've held multiple public hearings so it can't be said that they haven't disclosed their intentions. However, I don't think many of us really understand the complete dynamics behind the proposal and that information is harder to come by. What communications have there been with Bridgeport regarding this billing plan? I tried to get information at the public hearing but it was like pulling teeth. Furthermore, the operating assumption seems to be that negotiating the next contract will take many years like last time. However, it's all being done in secret. While that is understandable, I think the public is entitled to some sort of update - especially those that are about to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to modify their plumbing to accommodate a new billing system that may be temporary. Lastly, what other options were considered? I appreciate that Aquarion has been cooperative, but I've never understood why that was so surprising. The rate they've quoted us appears to be their standard meter rate. In essence, our Trumbull customers will just be opening a second account and paying for it. Aquarion is in the business of doing that so of course it is in their best interests to cooperate. Is that the most cost effective answer?
Scot Kerr April 06, 2012 at 01:27 AM
I’d initially come out swinging against this change when it was first announced back in February. I reversed my position when I realized that 1) all sewer ratepayers are picking up the $500k shortfall resulting from the current method; 2) the separate meters will lower the allocation to Trumbull overall so theoretically the rate/CCF should drop for all of us; and 3) allocating based on true flow to the treatment plant isn’t an option because of storm water inflow and infiltration, even in a separated system like Trumbull.
Scot Kerr April 06, 2012 at 01:29 AM
A couple of other points to consider: => Imagine the sensitively of the negotiations with Bridgeport, and the fact that introducing new questions could complicate matters further. A contract extension with no changes until we figure out the long term plan might be best. => Whatever the long term solution is (renewed contract with Bridgeport; new regional waste treatment facility; or building our own dedicated facility), we’re going to have the same problem of allocating costs to residents. Best to take non-household use out of the equation now. => I respect people’s right to maintain their property, but drinking water is a precious resource and the high volume households are using an astounding amount of it. When I glanced at the report at one of the hearings, I saw household numbers in the range of 60, 70, 80 CCF / quarter. It’s not a lot to ask that the privilege of using that much of a natural resource for non-essential purposes come with some extra requirements like separate metering. If anyone is interested in the bigger issue of how we think about water around the world, I recommend The Big Thirst, by Charles Fishman. http://www.amazon.com/The-Big-Thirst-Secret-Turbulent/dp/1439102082/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1333674306&sr=8-1
Gregg Basbagill April 06, 2012 at 02:24 AM
My final impression from the meeting a few months ago was that they should just apply the same arithmetic to all users that they apply to households on wells. Just because Bridgeport uses a cockamamy (sp?) method of calculating what we owe doesn't mean we should pass it on to the households here in town. We should negotiate as good a contract we can get, identify a price for our effluent and do our own math. However, if we insist on using the same logic on our households that Bridgeport applies to the town, then the switch actually makes sense. Folks who water lawns/ have pools are being subsidized by those who don't. Again- they should simply apply the mathematical formula they have for well-water users to all people. But I'm happy to be enlightened if my perspective is faulty.
Tom Kelly April 06, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Trumbull did used to pay for the total flow that was being sent to Bridgeport, but the contract was renegotiated to change those terms due to storm water getting into the sewer pipes. Trumbull has been using the averaging method for YEARS and never had a problem paying the bill out of sewer use fees until NOW, when the contract has three months left. What happened to the discussion of an audit of the WPCA to determine the actual amount in all of their accounts? It's money in fees that are collected from Trumbull households, but has anyone seen audited financials? Anyone on the BOF seen them? The WPCA Commissioners are non-elected, but can set sewer assessments and impose sewer use fees and all of their financial statements should be in their minutes each month....oh wait, there is only one Town Body that puts all of their financial statements in their meeting minutes each month.....the Board of Education.
jg April 06, 2012 at 04:20 AM
The strange thing is that our current method is actually the fairest method of allocating costs. Under the adopted proposal the people that will suffer are those with moderate summer usage. The heavy water users will be able to justify the new meter and plumbing. However, a moderate user, particularly one that may require extensive plumbing to isolate outdoor use, won't be able to do so. They will just have to absorb the cost even though their extra water also isn't going into the sewers. Applying the winter usage method removes seasonal outdoor use for everyone. Ignoring the minor question of whether Bridgeport would go along with it (will they go along with our adopted plan?), the stated problem with our existing method is "what about the snowbirds?" That is a very small number of accounts. One would think we'd be able to come up with a system that properly charges that small group (e.g. if you have little or no usage in the winter then we use an average for similarly sized houses in the summer). When you add in the fact that 30% of our annual savings will go to Aquarion and probably several years worth will go to local plumbers (I'd guess a few hundred to thousands per house depending on the amount of work) it will probably be a couple of years before the residents of Trumbull see a net benefit from the second meter plan.
Kristy Waizenegger April 06, 2012 at 04:52 AM
I don't know why people are under the impression that homes with pools use so much more water. Our pool was originally filled with a water truck, the pool is never emptied and occassionally we add a little water with the hose during the summer due to evaporation. And, again, none of that water ever touches a sewer.
jg April 06, 2012 at 05:12 AM
Kristy, Unfortunately you are the very type of user that may be negatively affected. Under the old plan moderate summer use didn't flow through (pun intended) to the sewer bill. Now the bill will probably go up but not enough to justify getting a separate meter.
Tom Kelly April 06, 2012 at 11:24 AM
Kristy, doesn't water naturally evaporate from a pool and the level need to be brought up from time to time? I don't know too much about pools, but I know I was at one of our late mutual friend's house over the summer on several occasions when he had a hose in his pool bringing up the level. There are many other folks who will be impacted, although perhaps not as dramatically. There are folks with hot tubs, those who just water gardens and lawns a lot, and people who have a need to wash equipment and vehicles frequently. Another thing that is troubling about this is that in February, the WPCA talked like this sub-meter thing was a done deal. Now, we hear that they are rolling this out despite the fact that the details have not yet been ironed out on the sub-meter plan. I can't believe Aquarion is asking people not to call them. This is really a bad deal for a signficant portion of Trumbull households. Unfortunately, I don't think we will start hearing a lot of folks on this until they start receiving their WPCA bills. I know you were vocal about opposing this back in February, do you still feel the same way?
Tom Kelly April 06, 2012 at 11:55 AM
Kristy, I just read all your comments above and I see you are still against it, and thank you for that. What do you think is the best way to address this now?
Jim Meisner April 08, 2012 at 06:33 PM
I actually think that separate metering for outdoor/ non-sewer use makes sense. We need to get Aquarion to charge a lower quarterly fee for the second meter, and we need to make sure that Bridgeport excludes these meters from our rate base. That still means that homeowners will have to pay for installing the second meter, but at least the quarterly account fee should be reduced significantly, since the additional cost to Aquarion would be very small. This is the only accurate way to bill for sewer use. I estimate that a second meter would reduce my annual water bill by about $500 on average. The current system is far from perfect. On my bill, the summer season (which was until recently excluded from the sewer bill) extended from March through August. However, we often have to water in September as well, particularly if we have the lawn seeded. And of course there are many retired people who spend significant parts of the winter down south, meaning that they paid less than their share of sewer costs under the old system. A second meter would also allow Aquarion to add a surcharge for outdoor water use during drought periods as a way to incentivize conservation. Encouraging homeowners to have a second meter in this way (by having a low quarterly account fee) could potentially be very helpful during droughts while preventing the need to ban watering altogether (just make it cost more).
jg April 08, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Jim, How will having a second meter reduce your water bill? Was that a typo and you meant sewer bill? Your water bill is guaranteed to increase by a little over $140 annually. You should also consider where the second meter must be inserted in your system. It will be done at the existing meter, which may be OK if you have an irrigation system tapped off there as mine is. The odds are that your outside faucets will not be on the second meter unless you pay to repipe your basement. So for many people a lot of their outside use will not be captured by this plan without great expense. As for Aquarion, they cited a fee of $35 per quarter in the public hearing. According to their rate schedule (http://www.aquarion.com/pdfs/AWCCT_Rates_as_of_031412.pdf) the quarterly rate for a 5/8" meter is $35.87 ($143.48 per year), so they are really just establishing a second account at full rate. For moderate water users they will end up just eating the sewer fees for water that is absorbed into the ground because it doesn't make sense to pay plumber's fees and Aquarion fees versus the savings. Even the heavy water users will see 30% of their "savings" just shifted to Aquarion. Aquarion is just doing what any business would do. They have an approved rate structure so they quoted from it. As a regulated utility they'd have to file for approval if they want to create a new rate class. Why do that when Trumbull will just drive new business their way at full rate?
Kristy Waizenegger April 09, 2012 at 12:54 PM
Jim, There are two separate issues here. First, water consumption - Residents undertstand they have to pay for actual consumption - this is not the issue. Surcharge? Are you kidding me? Another tax, this time for using water? If I use water, I pay for it. Can we ever give people some credit? People are capable of understanding that they shouldn't water in drought conditions - if your neighbors are watering in drought conditions, say something! Why would we add yet another level of bureaucracy? Why is a tax always the answer? The second, and real issue here is the sewer useage fees - Under the new system, you will be charged more sewer useage fees for more water that is not going into the sewers. Contrary to your comments above, this is not an accurate way to charge for sewer useage because water from sprinklers and pools does not go into the sewers. Residents are being charged for services not rendered. There is nothing fair and/or equitable about this change in policy.


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