Newport water customers could see a hike in their monthly bills starting in July.
A 5% rate increase is proposed as part of the city’s operating budget this year. The hike was previously approved by the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and delayed to 2021 due to the pandemic.
“All of this takes years to prepare for,” Robert Schultz, Newport’s director of utilities, said at a May 16 city council budget workshop.
Water customers currently pay $10.91 per 1,000 gallons of water used. If the budget is approved this year, that number would increase to $11.45 per 1,000 gallons. For a typical customer using about 5,000 gallons of water per month, the annual costs would be about $687, up from the current annual fee of $661.
According to Schultz, the increase proposed this year is to support debt service loans from RI Infrastructure Bank, totaling more than $3 million, which will fund the construction, renovation and repair of water pipes on Spring. Street and other areas of the city. The hike would also help offset service fees for electronic payments that have been postponed due to the pandemic.
“The good news is it’s 2-3% less than expected,” Schultz said. “The bad news is that there are additional elements for credit recovery and some of the COVID requirements that arise.”
On March 16, 2020, the commission voted to enter an emergency ordinance related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city’s water division wrote in a recent letter to the PUC. This order prohibited utilities from engaging in collection activities, such as terminating service, sending overdue accounts to collection agencies, and sending notices of termination. The order also prevented utilities from charging late fees, interest charges, credit card fees and debit card fees for collection.
The increase represents the second step in a two-phase process, with the first increase taking effect in 2020 after being approved by the city and the PUC in 2019. In 2020, the residential rate increased by 4%.
Newport’s water system, totaling nine reservoirs on Aquidneck Island and holding 3.8 billion gallons of water, serves the city’s residents, as well as some residents of Middletown and Portsmouth. By comparison, Providence’s water system contains 37 billion gallons.
The non-residential rate should also increase by 1%. The rate for non-residents would increase from $11.36 to $11.47 per 1,000 gallons.
The system’s wholesale customers are also expected to see a jump this year. Portsmouth Water and Fire District customers currently pay $6.84 per 1,000 gallons, but would pay $7.59 per 1,000 gallons under the new pricing structure, an increase of 11%. The US naval station rate is proposed to increase by 3%.
According to Schultz, water rates and increases are determined by usage data collected by the city, an initiative required by the PUC ordinance.
“These are true cost-of-service rates,” he said. “We have a model that shows where the demand is, what we need to do for wholesale customers and what we need to do for fire protection. There are analyzes behind this so that Portsmouth
The Water and Fire District, Navy and our Fire Protection Department are all charged at their true cost of service. We examine every element of it.
“The impact on these customers’ bills will vary depending on the classification and level of consumption,” he added. “We can see the impacts when people are conserving, and we’ve seen huge impacts with COVID.”
The system’s wholesale customers saw larger increases from the previous surge in 2020.
Residents can save money on their monthly water bills through a number of strategies, including leak prevention. The public can contact the city’s water division to learn more about these methods and how to get started.
“We can walk people through this,” Schultz said.
The system experienced 18 water main breaks in 2021, below the national average of about 25 per year. Sixty percent of the city’s water pipes were installed before 1960, one of which is now 127 years old.
The PUC will hold a public hearing on the proposed increases at a date yet to be determined.