PI water utility seeks rate increase, transitioning leadership

6 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Presque Isle Utilities District is proposing a rate increase for 2019 largely to pay for a recent infrastructure project. The utility is also undergoing a management transition.

The district’s superintendent Frank Kearney said he plans to retire in about a year as the district transitions to new management. The PIUD’s board of trustees named Ross McQuade as assistant superintendent last month, creating the new assistant superintendent position with plans to appoint McQuade, a former Aroostook County sheriff’s deputy, as the superintendent within the next year, Kearney said.

Also last month, the PIUD filed documents with the Maine Public Utilities Commission to institute an 11.55 percent rate increase as of February 2019. The PIUD will hold a public hearing on the proposal Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 3 p.m. at the utilities district office at 541 Main Street. Customers also can petition to challenge the increase.

The PIUD provides drinking water and sewer services to about 6,000 people in Presque Isle, and the average 11.55 percent proposed rate changes would mean a 10.76 percent increase for residential customers, a 10.75 percent increase for commercial customers and 12.9 percent increase for public fire protection.

The increase would raise quarterly water bills from $49.13 per 1,200 cubic feet of water to $54.42. Overall in Aroostook County, Kearney said that Presque Isle water customers have below-average costs. Quarterly costs for Aroostook County water utility customers range from about $34 per 1,200 cubic feet in Houlton to more than $80 in some communities, according to data from the MPUC that Kearney cited.

Kearney said the 11.55 percent increase “balances income to expenses,” with increases reflecting costs for infrastructure projects. It also includes an additional 5 percent above the balanced budget for contingencies as allowed by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

The PIUD currently has $8 million in debt for 18 different loans, including a $1.3 million loan for a recent water main replacement that will cost $80,000 per year over 20 years to pay back. The costs for debt on that project in the western section of Presque Isle and the Skyway Industrial Park represents the bulk of the increase, Kearney said.

The rate increase also will contribute $35,000 annually to a contingency account for water storage replacement and repairs, Kearney said.

Other factors behind the rate increase include overall growth in maintenance and operational costs, such as for fuel, electricity, chemicals and lab supplies, Kearney said.

For instance, the PIUD’s water treatment process costs about $1,000 per month more than it used to due to the addition of ozone treatment in recent years.

Employees also receive one-to-three percent compensation increases, and the costs of benefits such as health insurance have risen, he said.