Town water billing formula to change in 2014

By Cynthia Prairie

In an attempt to even out wildly fluctuating revenue coming into the Chester water department, town manager David Pisha is looking to “radically alter the way we will bill for water in the future.”

Currently, the 650 or so homes on Chester town water are billed at $2.95 per 1,000 gallons of water used plus a $20 quarterly flat fee for the water meters. This method leaves the town water department susceptible to the fluctuations in water use, Pisha said in an interview last week. For example, he said, in 2010, the town billed for about 34 million gallons of water “but in the past year that fell to 27 million” gallons – a 21 percent drop.

Yet the operating costs of the department didn’t drop, Pisha said, adding that “they probably went up a bit.” The water department budget is around $190,000.

So, instead of depending on usage for the bulk of the revenues, he said, “we’ll have a flat fee that will (be higher) and the (per gallon) usage fee will go down.”

That flat fee will be applied in tiers based on water consumption — the bigger users at a higher tier than the smaller ones.

Formula is a work in progress

Pisha said the town is currently working on a formula where larger users – such as the new car wash, Green Mountain High School and Drew’s All Natural – will have a larger flat fee. Then, he said, “we can get the cost of the (per 1,000-gallon) water to go down.” This means, he said, that many public water users could find themselves saving money on their water bills. “We don’t want a massive increase in anyone’s bill.”

He added that he hopes to have the new formula in place for the next billing cycle, which starts in mid-February 2014 and that this method will also “build in more fairness between small users and big users.”

This issue was addressed at the last Select Board meeting – Wednesday, Dec. 18. During that meeting, Select Board member Derek Suursoo wondered if something else was happening to cause the large drop in water usage. Pisha said he would look into it.

The Select Board will meet in a special session on the general and water and sewer funds at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 30. Click here for more information.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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