By Brett Yates
Rutland residents will see an increase in their water and sewer bills next year. On Dec. 21, the Board of Aldermen approved the Dept. of Public Works’ new rate schedule for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22), which begins on July 1, 2021.
Rutland City bills households and businesses quarterly for water, wastewater treatment, and wastewater collection (listed as “sewer maintenance”), based on usage, in addition to assessing two flat service fees each cycle. Next summer, the city will begin to charge $1.719 and $4.655 per 100 cubic feet of wastewater for collection and treatment, respectively — compared to existing rates of $1.344 and $4.406.
A concurrent reduction in the water rate — from $3.359 per 100 cubic feet to $2.968 — will only partially offset the raised sewer rates. The two flat fees ($29.05 for water and $17.55 for sewer, every three months) will go unchanged. All in all, the Dept. of Public Works estimates that, under the new rate schedule, an average family of four in Rutland City, using about 200 gallons of water per day, will pay $270.81 for water and sewer per quarter, an increase of 2.11% over their old bill of $265.22.
The new rate schedule will also affect some customers in Rutland Town, Mendon, and Killington who make use of Rutland City’s water and/or sewer services.
Sam Gorruso was the only Rutland City alderman to vote against the new water and sewer rates, observing that many ratepayers are already having a hard time covering their bills during the pandemic. “I don’t know why we can’t cut somewhere. I don’t know why, when we need more money, we just go to the ratepayers all the time,” he said.
Public Works Commissioner Jeff Wennberg sought to emphasize his department’s frugality. Although the lease-purchase of a new sewer flushing truck will contribute to a $13,592 jump in the operational budget for wastewater collection in FY22, that of wastewater treatment will drop by $41,777 due to expected efficiencies associated with the rehabilitation of the sewage plant’s digester.
The Water Divisions’ total operational budget, meanwhile, will fall from $1,937,504 to $1,833,213, owing partly to the replacement of defunct meter contractor FATHOM Water Services with a collection of cheaper vendors. Reduced water usage — particularly noticeable during the spring’s coronavirus-induced shutdown of restaurants and hotels — will also enable Public Works to skip its previously annual purchase of fluoride and zinc orthophosphate for water treatment and draw instead from its existing stockpile next year.
But Rutland City’s responsibility, starting in 2021, to begin to pay off a $7.4 million bond approved by voters in 2019 to fund major sewage system improvements, made a rate increase unavoidable in Wennberg’s view. “It’s not operations. We’ve cut those as far as we dare. It’s all debt service that’s forcing this,” Wennberg explained at a meeting earlier in the month.
Rutland previously raised the combined sewer and water rate three years ago. As of November 2018, Rutland City residents paid more for water and sewer than Vermonters in Burlington and South Burlington and less than those in Montpelier and Barre.