EDITORIAL

That R&R fee on your sewer bill

Posted

No matter what you’re paying for, a 550 percent price hike sounds outlandish.

Using that statistic alone, one would imagine taxpayers would be marching on City Hall after receiving their quarterly sewer utility bill and learning the renewal and replacement fee increases as of July 1. But percentages don’t always equate to the hit on the pocketbook.

What the Warwick Sewer Authority refers to as the R&R fee will climb from 63 cents per 1,000 cubic feet of water to $3.50. The impact of the fee is projected at $17 a year for the average residential customer according to WSA executive director Janine Burke-Wells. To the authority, the R&R revenues will climb from $140,000 to $770,000.

That sounds like a lot, but given the nature of what the funds are used for it’s not.

Warwick’s sewer system is comparatively new. Construction started in the 1960s and was focused in the Jefferson Boulevard area with the intent of providing the infrastructure needed to expand the city’s industrial base and then reaching out to the residential community.

Apart from customary maintenance, the system worked fine and the attention was on extending the service to neighborhoods and on refining treatment facilities to meet environmental requirements. These are capital projects that have been funded by bonds and repaid through assessments to those benefiting from the service or though operating fees. But the system is starting to show its age with one of the most costly failures being that of the Cedar Swamp pumping station where the corrosive effects of hydrogen sulfide - also, the cause of the foul odor that wafted in the neighborhood - required replacement of the station and its feeder pipes.

The authority has taken a proactive approach to dealing with the issue of renewal and replacement. It has relined what could be the system’s Achilles heel, the single pipe connecting the treatment plant on the Pawtuxet River to the network serving more than 22,000 customers on the opposite side of Route 95. The pipe showed signs of deterioration but was functional and would have continued operating. If it failed, however, it would have been a crisis with possible implications on the flow of Route 95 traffic.

Burke-Wells has a lineup of projects that includes the replacement of seven pumping systems that at the time they were installed looked to be the technology of the future but are plagued by breakdowns and proven to be inefficient. Revenues from the increased R&R fee that she said flows into an account reserved specifically for that purpose enables the authority to address issues before they become major projects like the failed Cedar Swamp pumping station.

A renewal and replacement fund is a sound business practice as long as it isn’t raided for other purposes. The fact that it could use additional revenues is a reflection of an aging sewer system and an authority that recognizes it is best to maintain and replace what we have now rather than wait for it to collapse. This is a matter of paying now or paying more later. Consider it insurance...a bill that's difficult to pay, but something you're glad to have it when you need it.

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