21% hike in water rates proposed for 158 Belmont customers of Abenaki Water

BELMONT — The Abenaki Water Company, which serves 158 customers in the Plummer Hill area of Belmont, has applied to the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for steep increases in its water and sewer rates.

The Abenaki Water Company, a subsidiary of New England Service Company of Plainville, Connecticut, was formed with the Lakeland Management Company and White Rock Water Company, both of which owned by the Crashaw family and headquartered in Gilford. Abenaki Water Company serves 253 customers in New Hampshire, 95 in Bow along with those in Belmont.

The company has proposed increasing its annual revenue from water sales by $45,383, or 23.4 percent, to a total of $239,266 for the systems in Belmont and Bow. For a single family home in Belmont the average monthly water bill, based on using 3,000 gallons, would rise from $53.75 to $65.00, an increase of $11.25 or 20.9 percent.

At the same time, the company has proposed increasing its annual revenue from sewer service in Belmont by $39,246, or 50.1 percent, to a total of $117,559. The monthly sewer bill for a single family home in Belmont using 3,000 gallons of water would rise from $34.55 to $50.77, an increase of $16.22 or 46.9 percent.

In addition to raising its base rates, the company seeks to recover deferred sewer treatment expenses from its customers in Belmont by means of a surcharge of $1.75 on their monthly sewer bills for one year.

Abenaki Water Company claims that its current rates are insufficient to defray the costs of necessary capital investments and regular operating expenses while ensuring the company a rate of return of eight percent. The company also seeks to recover $102,233 in so-called "organizational costs" associated with the acquisition of the water systems in Belmont and Bow by New England Service Company, Inc.

In an order issued last month the PUC found that the company's proposal raised issues of the "justness and reasonableness" of the projected rates. "Full investigations are necessary to determine whether the proposed temporary increases and proposed permanent increases are in the public good," the order reads.

The PUC has scheduled prehearing conference at the offices of the commission at 21 South Fruit Street, Suite 10, Concord at 10 a.m. on Monday, September 21 at which customers or their representatives may comment on the company's proposal.

Meanwhile, Senator Andrew Hosmer will host a public meeting to discuss the proposed rate increases at the Briarcrest Community Center at 100 Diamond Place on Sunday, September 13, beginning at noon.

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UNH authorized to conduct Shaker 'culture' study

BELMONT — The Shaker Regional School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to have the University of New Hampshire administer two of the three culture surveys it plans on having within the month.

Chair Sean Embree said the university will host an online culture survey for students and staff for a cost not to exceed $4,000 for both.

The idea of a culture survey was being discussed among members of the staff and the board before some of the people who were at the annual district meeting in March passed a non-binding resolution demanding one.

The board met with an independent company from Boston in April and May and learned the price for them to develop a specific survey for the district would be just over $20,000 and that it couldn't be done before the end of the school year.

Minutes of School Board meetings indicate members formed a subcommittee in July consisting of Patty Brace, Gretta Wilder-Olsen and Bob Reed to develop questions that should be asked. The subcommittee also determined there will be three surveys – one for the staff, one for the students and one for the parents and community.

The subcommittee has submitted sample surveys to the full board for its consideration and said each block of questions will provide a comment section.

At Tuesday's meeting, the board agreed the most efficient way to survey the staff and students would be through email. The survey is anonymous.

There was discussion Tuesday about whether or not staff and students should identify the buildings they are in. Member Heidi Chaney said she want as much anonymity as possible and also wanted the creators of the survey questions to know that this wasn't going to be a "witch hunt."

"We're looking for general feedback," she said.

Chaney and Reed said they want all of the surveys to go out at the same time but wondered how to distribute the community and parent survey because not all of them have access to computers.

In the past, board members said that sending post cards and press releases about the survey may work for those without a computer as they can go to the library or somewhere where there is computer access. Board members estimated about 10,000 people live in Belmont and Canterbury.

The board will continue its discussions about the culture study in their September 22 meeting.

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Gilmanton adopts 2015 spending freeze

GILMANTON — At the recommendation of Town Administrator Paul Branscombe the Board of Selectmen this week unanimously agreed to impose what Branscombe called a "spending freeze" until the end of this year.

Branscombe explained that he will expect all department heads to consult with either the Finance Director or himself before authorizing any expenditures. "We'll be distinguishing between wants and wishes," he remarked.

Branscombe, echoed by Finance Director Marie Mora, assured the selectmen that the town is in sound fiscal condition, owning in part to the board's decision to authorize the transfer of funds between different departments and lines within the budget. "That is very helpful," he said.

As of September 1, 61.2 percent of the funds appropriated had been expended with four months remaining in the fiscal year.

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