PITTSFIELD, Maine — A 21.4 percent rate increase for customers of the Pittsfield Water District became official Monday afternoon when the proposal breezed through the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
Commission spokeswoman Evelyn deFrees said the matter was supported unanimously with no debate among commissioners or comments from the public. The rate increase goes into effect retroactively to Dec. 1.
That gives the town the go-ahead to incorporate the increase in its next water bills, which according to Town Manager Kathryn Ruth will be mailed at the end of December. Ratepayers receive bills every three months, so those who receive bills this month will see an increase for only one of the three months for which they’re billed.
Ruth said the town hasn’t seen water rates go up in at least 10 years and that the $75,192 a year in additional revenue created by the increase merely will replace money lost because of decreased water use in Pittsfield.
“Our rates have gotten so low over the years that it’s hard to do infrastructure repairs when we need to,” said Ruth. “A rate increase is long overdue. We’re very pleased that it passed.”
A Town Council debate on the issue in October centered on the fact that Pittsfield’s water system, which serves 1,200 ratepayers, is old and in need of extensive repairs all over town. Ruth said the money from the increase will be used to keep the system running, but won’t come close to solving the problem. The town is seeking grant funding for capital improvements from the state’s drinking water program, among other sources.
A consultant from Olver Associates of Winterport told the council in October that Pittsfield had the 10th-lowest water rates in Maine, and the lack of increases over the years has led to the sorry condition of the town’s water system.
“This is not something anyone wants to hear, but it’s absolutely necessary,” said Olver’s Annaleis Hafford. “Pittsfield needs this badly.”
The increase affects the base rate paid by customers, which will go from $30 every three months to $40.20 every three months, for an annual increase of $40.80. The per-gallon system of calculating the cost of water above the base rate will not change. An average family of four in Pittsfield paid about $227 a year for water before this increase.
Ruth said the most direct result of the rate increase is that the town will be able to keep more repair supplies on hand in the event of a major malfunction, which she said is all too common. During a three-month period of time in 2008, there were 12 water main ruptures that required emergency action.
“Obviously we didn’t want to do this, but the cost of everything is increasing all around us,” said Ruth. “This will sustain the current budget.”