By Neil Vigdor
Water rates to rise 14% in
May 4, 2004
Town leaders are bracing for a possible water rate increase of nearly 14
percent, which could go into effect this fall if state regulators
approve a request from a privately owned utility.
Aquarion Water Co., which serves 60,000 customers in Greenwich and
another 133,500 in Stamford, Darien and New Canaan combined, filed a
rate change application with the state Department of Public Utility
Control at the end of March.
The Bridgeport-based utility estimated the average family of four in
Greenwich and Darien would see its daily water rate increase from $1.09
to $1.24 per 200 gallons consumed. The annual rate would increase from
$398 to $451 for 72,000 gallons of water consumed under the utility's
Stamford and New Canaan customers, who currently pay about 40 percent
less in water rates because their communities are tied into a different
reservoir network with different infrastructure, would see an increase
of about 12 percent.
But before the rate hike can go into effect, state regulators have
invited public comment as part of the regulatory process. And Greenwich
recently announced that it would hire an outside counsel who specializes
in utilities to represent the town in the matter.
"It impacts not only the town's finances but also every homeowner
in town," said Jim Lash, the town's first selectman.
The town's lawyer is expected to monitor the regulatory proceedings and
file a petition with the DPUC. The nature of that petition is
undetermined at this point.
Water rates charged to municipal fire departments would increase by
about 6 percent under the proposal.
"We're prepared for that in this upcoming budget that there will be
a rate increase," Greenwich Fire Chief Daniel Warzoha said.
Aquarion is seeking the higher fees to pay for improvements to its
The company estimated it had invested $9.6 million upgrading its
treatment plants, water mains and storage tanks in Greenwich and Darien
alone in the past three years. The last water rate hike -- 11.22 percent
-- occurred three years ago when the utility was under different
A spokeswoman for Aquarion called the proposed increase fair in light of
the company's commitment to improving infrastructure, inflation and the
need for water.
"We have to have it for life," said Adrienne Vaughan of
Aquarion. "We want to continue to make sure that we provide the
highest quality of water and service that we can."
As part of the regulatory process, the Kelda Group subsidiary will be
required to open its books to the state DPUC. Three commissioners from
the state agency will have the final say on the proposed rate hikes.
Aquarion reported slightly more than $110 million in revenue from April
1, 2003, to March 31, 2004, in Connecticut alone. The company is seeking
a $16.1 million revenue increase this year.
State regulations stipulate that utilities earn enough money to be able
to provide safe, adequate and reliable service, while having the
opportunity to make a return on their investment, said Beryl Lyons, a
state DPUC spokeswoman.
"The burden of proof is on (the utility)," Lyons said, adding
that the average rate hike application takes five to six months to
decide. "It is rare that any company gets everything they
Lyons described the water company proposal as a major case, one that she
said has already attracted considerable public comment.
"We've gotten some customer complaints," Lyons said.
Copyright © 2004, Southern
Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.