Double-digit hike likely for water/sewer

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BENNINGTON -- Water and sewer rates will likely increase significantly in fiscal year 2012 and beyond as town officials prepare to upgrade aging systems.

Select Board members met in a special meeting Monday to review proposed water and sewer budgets. The town is currently in the final year of a three-year budget plan that sought annual increases of 11 percent for water rates and 5 percent for sewer rates.

But proposed rates for the 2012 fiscal year are even higher as the board hopes to establish sufficient reserve funds and pay increased bond payments.

The proposed water rate is up 16 percent, while the proposed sewer rate is up 11 percent, according to Town Manager Stuart Hurd. Expenditures in the water budget are $265,830 higher in the proposed 2012 year budget, and $94,850 higher in the proposed sewer fund.

"Most of the impact will come from the need to increase reserves and to actually set aside sufficient funds to cover depreciation of the system," he said.

Hurd said the board spent most of its time during the two-hour meeting reviewing current reserves and the impacts on water and sewer rates if the reserves are increased.

Board members have asked for town staff to prepare information on how even higher rate increases would impact reserves. The board requested the impacts of 18 percent and 20 percent increase for both funds, Hurd said.

Aging infrastructure

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Boosting reserves is important because the infrastructure is aging, according to Hurd. The town’s wastewater plant is about 40 years old, he said.

"We’ve got to start taking a look at some of the bigger machinery and equipment that operates that facility because, theoretically, it’s past its useful life," he said.

Additionally, underground sewer pipes leading to the facility are about 50 years old. Some water lines in the village date back to 1910, making them more than 100 years old. The town must prepare for replacements, Hurd said.

"We want to be prepared for that catastrophe for when that water main underneath Main Street blows," Hurd said. "It would just be an incredible situation."

Hurd said the town’s current water and sewer rates places the town among the lower third when ranked against other Vermont municipalities. The proposed increases would place Bennington at about the median rates, he said.

"When you talk about a rate increase of 16 percent in the water fund it’s really only $48 a year. The 11 percent in the sewer fund is $27 a year. Yes, the percentage rate sounds like a lot of but it’s not a large sum of money," he said.

The increased rates are likely to be around for several years to build reserves to sufficient levels, Hurd said.

"If we’re going to be serious about getting our ducks in order here we’re probably looking at another number of years, three years, perhaps."

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com


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