Councilors consider water rate hikes
The Fairfield City Council Utility Committee met with the Ways and Means Committee Wednesday to discuss increasing the city’s water rates.
The committee members did not vote on any of the proposals for increasing water rates, although a few of them made known their attitudes about the process.
Councilor John Revolinski said he was hesitant to fund the kind of improvements McClure Engineering has recommended to the council. McClure Engineering presented a plan in June in which the city would need to raise $6.2 million in the next seven years to cover capital improvements to its water system. To fund this project, McClure Engineering suggested the city could increase water rates 15 percent every year for four years.
Revolinski said he needed to see more proof the expenses were justified before he agreed to the proposal.
“I’m not in the mood to spend a lot of money,” he said.
City Administrator Kevin Flanagan said the council was reaching a point where it didn’t have a choice about repairing the water infrastructure.
“Our water conveyance system is falling apart,” he said.
Revolinski asked city engineer Melanie Carlson of French-Reneker-Associates if the conveyance system was as bad as Flanagan described. Carlson said the city’s pipes are old, most of them having been installed in the 1950s and 1960s. She said one thing the city should look out for is the Department of Natural Resources scrutinizing cities with low water pressure. The DNR could force cities to replace water mains if the city allows the water pressure to drop below an acceptable level.
Carlson added the city has not yet received any orders from the DNR to replace water infrastructure.
Director of the Fairfield Economic Development Association Tracy Vance said he believed the city needed to go through with the capital improvements.
“What I hear from some in the business community is ‘Why didn’t they do anything 20 or 30 years ago when they knew it was an issue?’” Vance said. “I think it was because, not to be critical of your predecessors, they thought, ‘I’m not in the mood for spending money.’”
Vance said Fairfield businesses and residents would have been amenable to modest increases in sewer and water rates every year. However, now the city is faced with making steep increases to its water and sewer rates to pay for improvements.
Flanagan announced water superintendent Carl Chandler would be unable to make the meeting and would be out of the office for at least a few days.
Fairfield resident Paul Glossop said Chandler has a wealth of expertise on water-related issues and suggested increasing Chandler’s budget and staff to take full advantage of his knowledge.
Councilor Daryn Hamilton said the thing that’s giving him pause in the process is the fact that residential users will foot most of the bill, even though institutions use most of the water. Institutions in Fairfield use 65 percent of the water but pay about 10 percent of the fees, the reason for that being they receive a discounted rate for buying the water in bulk.
At the same time, Hamilton said he believed it was necessary to give discounts to large users, because otherwise it would hurt job creation in town. Flanagan added all communities give discounts to large users.