BREWER – Residents upset about a proposed water rate increase gathered at city hall Wednesday to voice their concerns.
The Brewer Water Department is planning a 15 percent rate increase starting Dec. 1.
About 35 residents attended a rate hearing to discuss the increase, the department’s debt and current projects.
Residents pay $58.90 for 900 cubic feet or 6,732 gallons of water. With the increase customers will pay $67.74 for the same amount.
The city took over the Brewer Water District in January 2003 and created the Brewer Water Department. The city also acquired $14 million in debt and two planned projects that are adding to costs.
City officials said two projects under way, a new 1.56 million gallon water tower on Whiting Hill and a 20-inch transmission line that runs from the tank into town, would have cost residents more if the city didn’t take over the district.
The water tank cost is $1.2 million. The transmission line costs dropped from a projected $1.35 million to approximately $750,000 because the project is being combined with construction of the new parallel road, Dirigo Drive.
“This is the last project the district had,” Brewer Water Department Superintendent Scott Clukey said. “We inherited this project.”
The new line is necessary to increase water flow to several areas of the city, but especially near the high school where water flow is lower than desired for fighting fires.
Others in attendance were concerned about the new department’s large debt.
“At the end of 2003, roughly half of the expense of running this utility was from debt,” said moderator Steve Levy, who is also the executive director of the Maine Rural Water Association. “The $14 million has built up over years. With the Safe Drinking Water Act, Brewer … had to spend a small fortune to comply.”
City Manager Steve Bost said the sole reason for the city taking over the water district was to “put a rein on costs.”
“When we took over that water district, things were out of control,” he said. “We were afraid that the $14 million [debt] would become $24 million and that would become $36 million. We were very fearful about what this environment would look like in five years.”
If the water rate increase is approved, Clukey said, the plan is to avoid having another increase for five years.
Residents opposed to the rate increase can petition the Public Utilities Commission for a formal hearing by collecting 528 Brewer residents’ signatures by Aug. 20.