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Few residents oppose 27% to 55% Connecticut Water Co. price hike
officials question CTWS accounting

By JENNIFER BABULSKY
Norwich Bulletin

PLAINFIELD-- While no more than a dozen people attended Thursday night's public hearing on a proposed 27.6 percent increase in water rates from the two divisions of Connecticut Water Co., the few who spoke opposed the hike.

The Crystal Water Co., which serves Killingly, Brooklyn, Thompson and a portion of Plainfield, and the Gallup Water Service, which serves portions of Plainfield and Griswold, are divisions of Connecticut Water Co.

The state Department of Public Utility Control must rule on the request within 180 days. Connecticut Water's application for the rate increase was made July 8 and a decision is not expected before December.

A similar hearing was held in Killingly last week.

Marshall Chiaraluce, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Connecticut Water, gave a presentation to residents and three members of the DPUC, detailing why the increase was necessary.

He said since the last rate increases -- 1994 for Gallup Water Service and 1995 for Crystal Water Co. -- the company has incurred costs in power, fuel, treatment chemicals, property taxes and employee wages and benefits. He also said the company planned to invest more than $10.6 million in infrastructure improvements and replacements to improve water quality, fire protection and water service reliability.

The improvements made to the Gallup Water System in Plainfield helped the firefighters during the InterRoyal fire in April, he said.

Ralph Wells, a member of the Plainfield fire department and fire district, disagreed.

"I can't dispute the volume in hydration was twice what it was before," he said. "But the majority of water was pumped out of the canal, not the fire hydrants."

Residents and town leaders from Plainfield and Killingly spoke against the increase Thursday.

"I just don't feel the people can absorb it," Plainfield Board of Finance Chairman Robert Vickers said. "I'm sure the company needs a rate increase, but I'd like to see a rate people can afford."

Killingly Town Council Chairwoman Janice Thurlow said the council opposed the increase and had looming questions.

One dealt with the Crystal Water Co. saying it purchased the assets of the Killingly Industrial Park water system from the town for $1.58 million when the town's records show a purchase price of $1.08 million, a $505,000 discrepancy.

Thurlow said there was also concern over future rate increases and questions over "quality of water" decisions being made without customer input. She also read a statement from Elaine Lippke, president of the Danielson borough, saying an additional burden would be put on residents.

Before the meeting, Christopher Robinson, president of the Dayville Fire District, said residents living in the fire district would really pay a 55.2 rate increase.

The increase, he said, comes from the fire district's 27.6 percent increase being paid by taxpayers and taxpayers again paying the increase for the water they use. The same would apply to residents living in any affected fire districts.

Susan Mercier of Killingly said she lives on a fixed-income and can barely afford the current rate.

The next step is evidentiary hearings at DPUC's headquarters in New Britain Sept. 13, 14 and 19.

Commissioner John Betkoski III said the DPUC took rate increases very seriously.

"It's not rubber stamped," he said.

jbabulsk@norwich.gannett.com