City will hold May 28 public hearing on sewer rate fees

LACONIA — The City Council this week scheduled a public hearing for Monday, May 28 at 7 p.m. to address a recommendation by the Finance Committee to increase the sewer rates in each of the next three fiscal years, as recommended by the Finance Committee.
Finance Director Donna Woodaman explained that at the current rates the Sanitary Sewer Fund, which finances the operating expenses and capital outlays of the system, is running an annual deficit as expenses of $3,882,845 exceed revenues of of $3,275,157 by $607,688.
The sewer rate consists of a fixed quarterly fee and a consumption charge, which are currently $30 and $3.30 per hundred cubic feet (HCF), or 748 gallons, respectively.
The Finance Committee recommends raising the quarterly fee to $32.50 in 2014, to $33.25 in 2015 and to $34 in 2016 and the consumption charge to $3.69, $4.19 and $4.75 over the same period. The increases would apply to all 9,894 metered customers in each of the three years while the higher rates would apply to those with only sewer service and seasonal properties beginning in 2015.
For metered properties, the average residential sewer bill, based on annual consumption of 120 HCF, is projected to rise from $516 to $572.80 in 2014, $635.80 in 2015 and $706 in 2016, or by 11 percent each year.
Woodaman projects the proposed rate schedule would shrink the deficit in the Sanitary Sewer Fund to $287,711 in 2014 and to $69,442 in 2015 before returning a positive balance of $180,994 in 2016.
The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) recently projected that the city will need to repair, replace and construct sewers in the foreseeable future at an estimated cost approaching $12 million.
At the same time, the capital improvement program of the Winnipesaukee River Basin Program (WRBP), which represents 63 percent of the annual operating budget of the sanitary sewer fund, projects capital improvements costing $54.6 million to be undertaken in the next 10 years. These include major improvements at the wastewater treatment plant in Franklin as well as to pump stations and sewer mains. As the largest of the 10 member municipalities of the WRBP, the city bears 40 percent of the program's capital budget.
In addition to the treatment plant, the WRBP includes 14 pump stations and 60 miles of sewer lines. built between 1973 and 1993 at a cost of $75 million. Federal grants accounted for three-quarters of the cost and state grants for another fifth while the 10 municipalities contributed 5 percent. Woodaman said that although the federal government offers low-cost financing, the cost of maintaining the system falls entirely to the member municipalities.