Higher water rates

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A more than 14 percent increase, no matter what it’s for, sounds like a lot.

So it’s not surprising Mayor Scott Avedisian would oppose the Kent County Water Authority’s request to hike rates in order to implement capital improvements, in particular a radio-operated meter reading system. With the system the authority expects it could complete a system-wide reading of its 24,000 customers in a day and a half. Currently, it can take the authority up to three weeks to read about 8,000 meters.

The merits of enhancing system operations that would reduce costs and enable the authority to implement monthly billing at some point are hard to argue. The question the mayor is raising is a valid one, whether the same objective could be reached without imposing such a dramatic increase over such a short time. Under the proposal, the first increase would be implemented in January followed by a second a year later. The meter-reading system is estimated to cost $6 million with the rate increases generating $2.78 million in the first year and an additional $1 million staring Jan. 1, 2018.

The city suggests the new metering system might be amortized over an extended period and supported by a lesser rate increase.

There’s another side to this issue that Mayor Avedisian raised when he observed that Warwick customers served by the Kent County Water Authority pay almost twice as much as Warwick residents serviced by the Warwick Water Division. KCWA services about 4,000 customers in the Warwick neighborhoods of Cowesett, Apponaug and West Natick. That includes a major portion of the city’s retail businesses as well as the city itself that pays Kent for hydrants.

Over the years, Warwick officials have suggested that Warwick acquire those portions of the Kent system in the city so that there would be uniform rates throughout the city. That certainly would appear to be the fair thing to do, but practically it would be difficult. The city and the authority would have to arrive at a price for the capital improvements and a program to pay that cost presumably shared by all customers. That would mean a rate hike for all of Warwick.

There are other issues, too. KCWA has its own water sources in addition to buying water from Warwick that gets its supply from the Providence Water Supply Board. If this sounds somewhat convoluted, it is.

While the discussion over rates and what are reasonable increases as well as why some Warwick residents are paying more than others is justified, it should also be put in context of what is happening across the country. Comparatively, whether the bill comes from KCWA or the city, the cost of water here is reasonable. Additionally, the quality is high. For that we are grateful. Maintaining those systems is essential to our economy and to the well being of our population.

That’s not to say no expense should be spared. We would hope that the Public Utilities Commission weighs the options and keeps in mind, while we all should be mindful of conserving water, sudden cost increases can be hard to swallow.

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RISchadenfreude

It's interesting to note that the increase for "Capital Improvement" doesn't go away once those improvements are completed- once again RI utility customers, Warwick or other, get the shaft.

It's the old, "Vote 'No' the first time, vote 'Yes' the second time" routine at the PUC. In many other states, the improvements have to be approved by the public or they don't get passed.

It will be interesting to see if the union meter readers actually read 24,000 meters in a day and a half- seems pretty darn optimistic...

Tuesday, December 13, 2016 | Report this