Portland Water District budget includes 3.8% rate hike

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PORTLAND — Customers could see a 3.7 percent increase in water rates as a result of the 2016 Portland Water District operating budget of $40.5 million.

“Much of the increase is related to infrastructure maintenance and improvements, including water main replacement,” PWD spokeswoman Michelle Clements said in a Dec. 10 press release.

The operating budget represents a 3.8 percent, or $1.5 million, spending increase, funded by the presumed rate increase, which is expected to generate a 2.4 percent increase in revenues. The budget was approved this month by the PWD Board of Directors, which still has to approve the rate increase.

Clements on Dec. 18 said the board will likely vote on the fee increase next month. It would go into effect May 1.

The increase, which Clements said would average 71 cents per month on a “typical monthly water bill,” does not include fees for wastewater.

PWD General Manager Ronald Miller introduced the budget in a letter, noting 38 percent of the budget is for salaries and benefits. A wage increase of 2 percent is anticipated for union labor. There is no change in the number of full-time positions – 178 – and health insurance costs were reduced, in part by increasing co-payments by staff.

Board members also approved a $14.6 million capital improvements plan for bonded projects repaid through rate revenues. The capital plan allocates $10.4 million in upgrades to the water distribution system, and $3 million in wastewater collection system and treatment facility projects.

Of the $10.4 million, $7 million will be spent to replace water mains. To help pay $2 million of those bonds, 1 percent of the anticipated 3.7 percent rate increase will be set aside in a capital reserve account.

The PWD serves 11 communities from Cumberland to Scarborough and west to Sebago and Windham with water from Sebago Lake.

According to the budget packet, PWD operates and maintains about 1,000 miles of mains, three pumping stations and 10 storage facilities to distribute potable water. About 21 million gallons of wastewater is sent daily to four treatment facilities through 90 miles of pipe and 64 pumping stations.

The budget also includes $950,000 for debt service on a $12 million upgrade to the ultraviolet/ozone treatment system at the water treatment plant in Standish.

Assessments to each community for wastewater services will increase 2.2 percent, to $17.5 million. Those assessments are less than had been anticpated and provide 43 percent of PWD revenues, according to budget documents.

Wastewater rates are set individually by the communities.

Work on a $12 million upgrade of the aeration system at the treatment facility in Portland will begin in 2016, and the budget allocates $1 million for improvements to the sludge dewatering system in Westbrook.

In Portland, the wastewater fees will be reduced to $8.20 per hundred cubic feet as the city introduces the new stormwater service fee for all property owners. The monthly fee of $6 per 1,200 square feet of property is intended to help pay for stormwater and wastewater improvement projects such as separating water mains and improvements to the treatment plant near East End Beach.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The $40.5 million budget approved by the Portland Water District includes upgrades at the wastewater treatment palnt near East End Beach in Portland, seen Dec. 21.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.