5% water rate hike coming in 2012

Water rates are likely to increase by 5 percent starting Jan. 1, 2012 to help close a nearly $1.2-million deficit in the city’s water utility. The base rate would rise from $29.64 to $31.12 per thousand cubic feet. A typical residential meter (5/8 inches) would see an increase from $32.60 to $34.23 in the base rate.

The City Council introduced an ordinance (O-30-11) at its Oct. 11 meeting which is scheduled for a public hearing and final adoption on Nov. 14. Also on tap for the Nov. 14 City Council meeting is a public hearing and final adoption of at the Oct. 11 meeting, the governing body adopted the city budget, which this year is a transitional budget as the city goes from a calendar year (Jan-Dec) to a fiscal year (July-June). More on the transitional year budget in an upcoming blog post. [CORRECTION: The public hearing and final adoption of the transitional year budget occurred at the Oct. 11 council meeting; there will not be a public hearing on the budget at the Nov. 14 meeting, only a public hearing on the new water rate ordinance.]

The city purchased additional water for a variety of reasons, according to Chief Financial Officer Frank Ruggiero, including construction and dilution (the heavy snowfall led to a need to dilute water because of the salt). In total, the city spent about $450,000, of which $217,000 was funded through an emergency appropriation and raised in the budget during the transitional year, he said.

The last increase in water rates occurred in 2009, he said, and the proposed rate hike will generate about $231,000 annually.
The water utility carried a prior year operating deficit of $322,000, which needs to be raised in the transitional year. The $217,000 and $322,000 [total: $539,000], plus the amount needed to balance the water utility budget “due to lack of water rent revenue,” Ruggiero said, will require the Current Fund to supplement the utility’s budget by $1.145 million.
The water utility in 2010 ran an operating deficit of about $170,000, with total appropriations of $5.355 million (Page 8 of .pdf of city’s ’11 budget). The proposed 2011 transitional budget (scheduled for adoption Nov. 14) lists appropriations of $5.467 million for the water utility, projecting an operating deficit of about $5,000.
Several council members at the October meeting asked about the possibility of limiting any rate hike to 2 percent in 2012, or revisiting the issue annually. City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier recommended the increase be 5 percent for three years but if the City Council would prefer an annual analysis, “that makes sense.” In that case, he preferred to see the rate hike higher this year, “but I know people are struggling,” he said.
In the late ’90s, the city hired United Water to manage its water utility for 20 years. Pelissier said the savings to the city over that time are estimated to be $32 million. The city still owns and maintains the facility, he said, paying a fee to United Water to manage it. The fee now is at its highest point but by 2014 will drop below $1 million, he said. The city will realize that drop in the operating budget, Pelissier said, adding that water utility surpluses in the past have gone back into the city budget.
***

Readers who live near the border of Colonia/Woodbridge might be interested in this bit of news from Woodbridge Patch: “Woodbridge Buys Land Development Rights of Colonia Country Club.” Here’s MyCentralJersey.com’s take on the same story.