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Meredith moving forward to change water rates


August 04, 2010
MEREDITH — The Board of Selectmen is moving forward in a process to raise water rates, though at least one expressed concern with their impact.

On Monday the selectmen voted to accept the report by the Water System committee, which includes the recommendation to raise rates.

During the board's July 19 workshop, Water System Committee Chair Jim Thorpe presented the committee's report saying the water rates had not increased in several years. Additionally improvements and repairs to the water treatment plant depleted the department's reserves.

Another issue is the potential for a sizable bill for the town's involvement in the Winnipesaukee River Basin project.

The new water rates simplify the rate structure and create more of a 69/31 share between water users and the town in general, with water users paying operating expenses and the general portion paying for capital costs.

Town Manager Phil Warren said the rates would be done on a sliding basis for three years. He said he had the understanding that rates would again be reviewed going into the fourth year.

Warren said after the hearings and discussion necessary to change the rates, the new rates, if approved, would likely go into effect around Jan. 1, 2011.

Selectman Miller Lovett said he understood the process that went into establishing the report, as he has been a part of the Water Committee. However, Lovett said he spoke to a business owner who said he had not paid himself in a year.

"I think raising the rates in this economy will cause many businesspeople a problem," Lovett said.

Lovett said it might be best if the new rates are pushed back three to six months.

Warren said that would not be a good idea, as the increase would result in a larger bite later with less of a gradual progression.

"This is the place to increase the rates; we have a hand on the utility," Warren said.

Delaying the increase would also mean less money being put aside and the system could see larger increases in the next few years.

Selectman Peter Brothers said the need was great to start establishing the reserves with work being done.

"I agree it could come at a better time for the economy, but by delaying it we're going to have a par greater impact on the businesses," Brothers said. "I believe that delaying by six months is going to be significant." Waiting the six months "will create a different set of problems that are more significant."

Thorpe said if the rates go into effect on Jan. 1, the town might see a shortfall for 2010 that could be made up by the general fund. In 2011 $50,000 would be added to the reserves and $100,000 would be added in 2012 through 2013. If the rate increase is delayed, it might result in more of a shortfall that will cost taxpayers more.

Lovett said he simply wanted to express the other point of view that he had been hearing.

"From what Dave says there's no way around it," Lovett said.

Thorpe said another possibility was raising rates within the current structure, a suggestion that Thorpe said was to present another option though he strongly recommended against it.

The board voted in favor of accepting the report and will discuss the rates and their implementation process at future meetings.

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