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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.

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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