Kevin Hunt: Why Are Some New MDC Water Fees 'Astronomical'?


A glass of tap water, a cold shower and hosing down the car will cost every Metropolitan District Commission customer more this year. The reality of fee increases, following a vote of the MDC's member towns last November to fund the second phase of the Clean Water Project, finally arrived this month with the year's first quarterly bill.

But some MDC customers are paying a lot more than others.

Brian Benito of East Granby wasn't sure what to think when he opened his quarterly bill in early April. Benito says an MDC surcharge, established in 2007 to repay Clean Water Project debt, increased to $89.90 from $39.54 over his previous bill.

Benito is one of 7,800 customers in the MDC's "non-member" towns — portions of Glastonbury, South Windsor, Farmington (Unionville), East Granby and Portland — that receive water from the nonprofit municipal corporation.

The new charges are the byproduct of a vote by "member' towns — 100,000 customers in Bloomfield, East Hartford, Hartford, Newington, Rocky Hill, West Hartford, Wethersfield and Windsor — allowing the MDC to bond for the $800 million cost of the second phase of the Clean Water Project to reduce sewage overflow into the Connecticut River.

In the most recent billing period, Benito's household was charged $174.84 for 18 ccf of water (a ccf is 100 cubic feet, or 748 gallons). Excluding fees, the water cost less than $45. He searched through past bills to find a quarter with comparable water use and found a match, 18 ccf, from the first quarter of 2011. The total bill then: $69.20.

"I almost went to my neighbors and asked, 'Did your bill go up this much, too?" says Benito. "I'm used to paying $90 for three months. That's a dollar a day. Now I'm up to $2 a day. That's almost more than my electricity."

A year ago, all MDC customers paid a $157 customer service charge. Customers with sewer service paid an additional $190 service charge (based on 100 ccf water usage). Non-member customers also paid a $158 general surcharge on top of the flat customer service charge.

Without considering so much as a drop of water, non-member MDC customers this year can expect about $585 in fees. Customers in member towns will pay about $400 in fees.

Why are non-member customers paying so much more?

"Residents in member towns have, in effect, paid for a water system," says Chris Stone, the MDC's assistant general counsel, "the water transmission, treatment and distribution, and capital costs for that system since, arguably, 1929. That's when the system was built. None of the customers in the non-member towns contributed to that cost."

None of the non-member town customers voted for the project, either. But what town would vote down a measure seeking to eliminate the billion-plus gallons of storm water and sewage the MDC says overflows each year into the Connecticut River and, eventually, Long Island Sound? In some neighborhoods it's even worse — raw sewage that backs up into basements and onto local streets because of antiquated piping.

The MDC didn't have a choice. The project was mandated by state and federal environmental officials. If the referendum had not passed, the special sewer service charge in place since 2007 would have been replaced by an "ad valorem" tax based on a homeowner's assessed property value.

Either way, member towns were going to pay. Non-member towns were going to pay even more.

"Everybody's water rates are going up, unfortunately" says Scott Jellison, MDC's deputy CEO and chief operating officer. "The systems are 100 years old. They need to be upgraded. And that's across the country. That's not just in Connecticut."

The MDC, in a letter to its non-member customers in February, outlined the new charges. The MDC told customers they pay the same as member towns — except, of course, for the quarterly Non-Member charge. It also detailed a new Special Capital Improvement Surcharge "to reimburse the MDC for the cost of capital improvements."

"We understood this was in very difficult financial times," says Jellison. "It's very difficult to swallow and difficult to explain."

So let's start with a standard residential meter size (five-eighths of an inch).

All customers pay:

>> $2.50 per 100 cubic feet of water.

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