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Water rate increase delayed by commission resignation

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

GROTON – An unexpected resignation from the town’s Water Commission has forced a delay in scheduled hearings on possible water rate increases.

According to Commission Chairman Michael Brady, a public hearing on possible increases in water rates was scheduled for earlier this year, but the sudden departure of former Chairman Christopher Kelly forced a reconsideration.

Kelly, who had only months left in his first three-year term on the commission, was forced to hand in his resignation on April 1 when a change of address found him living outside of Groton.

“In hindsight, scheduling the public hearing (at that time) was premature,” said Brady at a meeting of the commission held last Tuesday night. Kelly’s sudden departure prompted commission members to indefinitely postpone any rate-increase hearings.

Kelly’s seat on the commission has been filled by Duck Pond Drive resident Gary Hoglund, who appears on the ballot for the upcoming town election as seeking his own three-year term on the commission. Hoglund is joined on the ballot by Pleasant Street resident Lawrence Swezey, who is running for the two years remaining in former commissioner William Miller’s three-year term. The town election is scheduled for May 16.

Although Brady did not rule out across-the-board increases for the Water Department’s 1,542 ratepayers, he said such an action was not written in stone.

“We are facing a deficit that we need to offset,” said Brady. “Everything is on the table at this point.”

Brady said several revenue-raising options were available to the commission including selective rate increases or a hike in certain fees. Last year, the commission ran into sharp protests from ratepayers after voting to implement a new $25 “processing fee” in its billing. That vote was overturned and the fee was replaced with a minimum charge of $10.

In the end, last year’s charges to customers using up to 20 units of water per quarter was raised from $3.25 per unit to $3.60; usage of water between 21 and 40 units went from $3.75 to $4.14 (a 15 percent increase); and usage of over 40 units went from $4.31 to $4.74 (a 10 percent increase).

At the time, the increases were needed to pay for a portion of $6 million worth of upgrades to the department’s water distribution system including the construction of a million-gallon water storage tank at Brooks Orchard, the replacement of undersized water mains in the town center, valve replacements, an iron and manganese facility at Baddacook Pond, and continued development of underground water resources needed to satisfy the town’s increasing thirst for water.

The rate increases being contemplated for this year will be needed largely to cover the continued payments on the upgrades.

No date has been set for the rate-increase hearings.