Winsted sewer fee hike to help ‘keep system running’, says official

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WINSTED — If people stopped flushing disposable wipes and other trash down the toilet, the city’s aging sewage system would likely run much more smoothly. But the waste being disposed of, along with aging equipment and a small staff, is costing the city’s treatment plant more money than its rates can bear, officials said.

A plan to upgrade the system and its equipment will include proposed rate increases for the sewer plant’s 2,850 users, who would see their quarterly bills double in a rate plan over the next five years.

Members of the Water and Sewer Board and plant and public works staff held a hearing Thursday to explain the proposed rate increase and what it will mean for users.

Bruce Stratford, who recently retired as the city’s chief financial officer but is now a consultant on special projects like this, explained what the rate increase will mean for users.

Quarterly invoices are sent on February 1, May 1, August 1 and November 1. February bills cover a customer’s sewer activity from October through December. Each bill includes a base rate for a meter or water fixtures. Small meter customers pay about $50 per quarter; larger meter customers pay around $92. Fixture customers pay $12 per fixture, per quarter.

Of the 2,850 customers, nearly 90% are metered customers, Stratford said. Some are heavy commercial users and 162 customers, who are not metered, are billed based on the number of water fixtures in their home: toilets, showers and faucets.

“The proposed increases involve increases to the base quarterly rate, installation fees and the addition of low-pressure grinder pumps – used to grind waste entering the user’s property sewer system before ‘they don’t penetrate underground pipes – are also being upgraded or repaired, which will require additional cost,’ Stratford said.

“For someone paying about $50 per quarter, those quarterly bills would increase to $60 in 2023, $70 in 2023, $80 in 2024, $90 in 2025, and $100 in 2026. Heavy users would see the same kind of increase.”

The new rates are offered from April 1st.

“But because you’re not billed for usage until the next quarter, the increase won’t show up until your August 1 bill,” Stratford said.

The increased fees will help the sewer commission increase its revenue, which will increase significantly from 2023. The commission has been operating with a budget deficit for several years, Stratford said, illustrating the need for more revenue.

“We’ll end up with about $2 million in revenue,” Stratford said. “Part of the purpose of this operation is preventative maintenance of the system. This means adding new staff, so expenses in 2023 will be higher. But the deficit (caused by ongoing maintenance) will be greatly reduced…and the revenue will keep the system running and revitalize the structure so it doesn’t break down.

A small group of people attended the hearing, including selector Candy Perez and Planning and Zoning Commission member Willard Platt, who both live on Highland Lake. Several letters were also read aloud, with objections to a rate increase at this time, citing the pandemic and the rising cost of living.

The commission took advantage of the hearing to explain how the system works and what its challenges are. One of the biggest problems facing the treatment plant crew, said commissioner Bill Hester, is disposable wipes and other types of waste, which clog equipment, cause pump motors overheat and wreak havoc on the system meant to separate the sludge from the water before it flows back into the Still River.

“These disposable wipes are one of our biggest problems, and we’ve spent thousands of dollars to fix the damage they cause,” Hester said. “Flushable wipes can’t be flushed down the toilet… No type of trash can either.”

Commission Chairman John Massicotte and Members George Closson, Mike Farrell and Hester were joined by Chief Plant Operator Alex Combes and Water Plant Superintendent Marty Cormier, who spent some time explaining how the 33-year-old sewer plant works and the challenges they face.

Hester reminded sewer users to get their leaky pipes and faucets fixed, saying the amount of wasted water can add up quickly.

“On the water side, with a dripping device, you can waste three gallons a day,” he said. “If a pipe leaks, in three months it can lose 74,000 gallons. It is quite important to fix your leaks.

On the sewer side, Hester said, disposable wipes, commonly referred to as “rags” by sewer workers, cost more than $1 billion a year in cities and towns across the United States.

“In New York, over the last five years, they’ve spent $19 million on repairs,” he said.

In addition to Winsted’s 2,850 customers, Barkhamsted’s Mallory Brook Plaza on Route 44 was hooked up to the system last year, and that town is adding a housing estate that will hook up to the system.

The commission did not vote on the proposed rate increases Thursday.


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