The reasons behind the pending utility rate hike
By Frank Kearney Sr.
In a few weeks, the rates for all Presque Isle Utilities District water customers are scheduled to increase. Customers were notified of the change in August and a public hearing on the increase was held on Sept. 15, 2015. The Maine Public Utilities Commission is set to approve the new rates in the next few days. The rate is being phased in over a 3-month period and will be in full effect by February.
The District also operates the wastewater side of things and many of the same issues which increase water rates also affect the rates we charge for sewer service. Let me list a few.
First, the District has added some new debt as a result of improvements to sewer mains in the downtown area during 2014. The project included replacing and upsizing several hundred feet of sewer main line.
Next, many years have passed since a comprehensive evaluation of the sewer collection system has been done. Just recently, portable flow meters were purchased and have been placed in critical areas to determine just which sewer lines have elevated inflow or infiltration problems. The continuously recorded flow information is correlated to weather events and calculations can be done help determine where to spend our money on rehabilitation efforts. The footwork is being done by District personnel with assistance from Wright- Pierce Engineering. This project will continue for at least a full year.
Last but large, there will be improvements coming to the wastewater treatment plant. When you flush, take a shower, do the dishes or laundry, we take everything you send us and treat it to be put safely back into the environment. The process is highly regulated, environmentally sound, and very reliable. But it isn’t always easy, and the costs seem to escalate beyond imagination when infrastructure needs improving. Consider the following:
The District has been operating with the typical 5-year discharge license issued by the Environmental Protection Administration and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection back in 2007. Our license was not renewed in 2012, and has been under review for three years.
At issue is the way the treatment plant handles storm flow volumes. The flow is always treated to meet or exceed license requirements, but there is an overflow possibility present due to plant design. The facility was built in the 1980s. When the new license is finally issued, it is certain that much attention will be paid to storm flow capability. There will be modifications required to the treatment plant which will eliminate the possibility of untreated wastewater entering the Presque Isle Stream. It is likely a compliance date will be attached as well.
The District trustees continually analyze all of these issues. They are utility customers too, and before anything happens which can influence customer costs, they make sure all the alternatives have been explored. With many future issues, and two years of negative net income for the sewer division, they recognize the need to increase sewer rates.
The increase will be 15 percent and will raise approximately $190,000 for the $1.3 million operating budget. The Trustees have scheduled a hearing to gather input from District customers. The meeting will be on Tuesday, Nov, 10 at 6 p.m. at the Turner Memorial Library.
I will be writing more about this and other utility issues in the next few weeks. But as always, anyone interested in having more information about rates, or to discuss any utility issue is welcome to call me anytime.
Frank Kearney Sr. is superintendent of the Presque Isle Utilities District.