Portland Water District projects nearly 2% rate hike

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PORTLAND — Customers can expect a rate increase of about 32 cents per month next year when a $42 million operating budget goes into effect for the Portland Water District.

PWD announced passage of the budget by its Board of Trustees Dec. 22. The actual rate increase, projected at 1.67 percent, will not be determined until trustees vote again in March. Rate increases must also be approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission. The increase is proposed to take effect May 1, 2017.

The rate increase, which helps cover a 3.8 percent increase in the operating budget, covers water use only. Wastewater rates are determined by municipalities served by the PWD.

The utility does assess municipalities it serves for wastewater collection and treatment. Those assessments include increases of 1.8 percent for Cape Elizabeth, 2.5 percent for Westbrook, 4.7 percent for Portland and 12.6 percent for Cumberland.

Portland now assesses a fee of $8.20 per 100 cubic feet for wastewater, along with a monthly fee of $6 per 1,200 square feet for all properties. The property fee was established this year to help defray project costs for work to reduce the flow of wastewater in Casco Bay.

With the operating budget, trustees also approved an $18.7 million capital improvements budget funded through borrowing. According to the budget, $7 million will be spent to replace water mains, with $2 million of the funding coming from a capital reserve fund set up in 2014.

The budget proposes no changes in staffing at 178, but salaries, benefits and pension obligations are projected to increase $400,000 from $15.7 million to $16.1 million. That amounts to 39 percent of the operating budget.

The $200,000 increase in salaries and $461,000 in increased pension obligations were offset by increased contributions by employees to their health insurance plans.

Also increasing is the utility’s debt service, separate from its capital budget. According to the budget packet, the $800,000 increase in debt service from $12.4 million to $13.2 million is due largely to financing water main replacements, upgrades at the utility’s wastewater treatment plant near Portland’s East End Beach and renovating the Fore River Pump Station in Portland.

The $2 million budgeted for electricity assumes a 4 percent increase.

The rate increase will help water sales to remain the primary source of PWD revenue, with a projected increase of $588,000 to $22.81 million of $42.25 in total revenues.

Along with replacing water mains in its 1,000-mile network, the utility will spend $2 million to upgrade services in the “407 Zone” areas of Gorham and Windham.

According to the budget packet, the PWD operates four wastewater treatment plants handling an average of 21-23 million gallons of wastewater daily. The largest is near East End Beach in Portland. There are also plants on Peaks Island in Casco Bay, Cape Elizabeth, and one serving Westbrook, Gorham and Windham.

Wastewater in South Portland and Scarborough is treated at municipal plants.

Included in the new budget is $1 million for upgrading sludge treatment at the utility’s Westbrook Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant. The capital budget includes $2 million to improve wastewater improvements in the area of Dana Court in Westbrook.

The utility provides service to 10 towns in the greater Portland area, and is overseen by an 11-member board of directors. One of two seats serving South Portland and Cape Elizabeth remains vacant after the November death of Wayne Ross.

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

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.