by Alex Malm
HAMPSTEAD – In the wake of unprecedented requests for increased water rates, officials from Hampstead brought some of their concerns before the Public Utilities Commission and Hampstead Area Water Company during a PUC public technical session April 22.
Laurie Warnock, Hampstead Board of Selectmen member, said a lot was being built into the proposed increase that would raise the usage cost to town residents without their receiving more benefits.
At the same time Hampstead Water Resource Committee Vice Chair Ken Richards pointed out the town has struggled to verify the amount of water loss along HAWC’s water lines from studying annual reports, including trying unsuccessfully to meet with company representatives to better understand the operation and discuss the losses.
“Given the amount of water loss that HAWC has identified, to be giving themselves a bonus for exemplary performance in refining and improving their system, it’s a small amount, but it adds insult to injury when you’re talking about this dramatic of a rate increase,” Warnock stated at the hearing.
The temporary rate proceedings started in February with a settlement on temporary rates set to come May 14 and a hearing on those rates on May 21. Next will be permanent rate proceedings starting May 20 and running through September.
The temporary rate now would go from $6.11 per hundred cubic feet (ccf) to $7.22 following slower past incremental increases, Warnock noted.
The last general rate increase case was in 2017, said John Sullivan, HAWC controller, with that rate taking effect in July 2018. The company has discussed for some time going to tiered rates temporarily.
HAWC wanted to set the first of two tiers at a lower rate for what would be considered essential water for cooking, washing, and bathing.
Sullivan said the average residential customer uses about 5,400 cubic feet a year. The initial block is for the first 4,800 cubic feet a year which is 400 cubic feet a month. The first 400 for everyone will be at the lower tier, and anyone using more will pay at the higher tier.
Some customers use 30,000 or 40,000 cubic feet a year, he noted. Those using 300, 400, or 500 cubic feet a month tend to remain at that rate throughout the year even during the summer, Sullivan added.
The rate is intended as a disincentive to use thousands of gallons a day for watering lawns, said Charlie Lansa, HAWC general manager.
As to the water loss level, the NH Department of Environmental Services and Environmental Protection Agency have a 15 percent water loss goal which HAWC has been below in recent years, Sullivan said.
Richards also raised the issue of how the hydrant increases could be spread out across the tax base when only a portion of the town derives any benefit. Seventy percent of Hampstead residents have no connection to HAWC either through getting water or fire protection, he said.
Sullivan responded HAWC is providing a service to the town as any other vendor and should be paid on that basis whether its service is to the entire town or just part of it. “Every taxpayer has to pay for services they don’t get whether it be schools or garbage pickup,” he said.
Lansa maintained that HAWC services approximately 40-45 percent of Hampstead, and people will sometimes incorrectly take the amount of services and divide it by the population. “It should be the amount of services converted to population based on census data of 2.5 people per service and then factored into the total town’s population,” he said.
“Coming from my background you can slice and dice a set of numbers and make them appear to be just whatever you want,” responded Richards, a retired DES geologist. He challenged whether HAWC services nearly half the town.
If the tax impact is a justification for the rate increase it’s not a fair representation to spread it out despite the town’s responsibility to decide how to pay for these services, Richards said. In his view a cost representation should be across the tax base actually using a service.