Water rate hike pinned on lines’ age

It’ll cost more out of pocket to get water service provided by the Williamsport Municipal Water and Sanitary Authority starting Jan. 1 and it’s mostly because of the need to replace aging water mains and other infrastructure improvements to be done over the next three years at a cost of $15 million, according to authority officials.

The authority board of directors Wednesday authorized rate changes for water service, but have kept the sanitary side the same rate, according to John Baker, the authority director of finance.

On average, it will cost an average of $5.85 per quarter more or $23.40 per year more for water use, said Douglas Keith, authority executive director after the meeting at the authority headquarters at 253 W. Fourth St.

The authority remains in discussion whether to continue billing quarterly or move toward a monthly billing cycle, Baker said.

“It does, however, encourage partial payments and if customers want to they may pay every month,” he said.

Baker said the authority doesn’t anticipate customer backlash after they learn about another rate increase, which is less than a penny per gallon of water used.

“We try to accommodate the customers as much as we can,” he said. “We encourage them to come in, even though our billing is quarterly, we ask them to come in every month if they can as they anticipate what their bills might might. They also can make partial payments.”

The reason cited for the increase water rate is based on a capital budget to spend $15 million on infrastructure over the next three years. The $15 million expenses will help to upgrade water distribution mains for water consumption, but also several mains to be replaced that provide fire service to battle structure fires, according to Baker.

“We have to maintain our infrastructure,” he said. “We’ve had some issues with mains and fires in the city and we’ve to got to be able get these mains replaced and do it rather quickly.”

The authority and its contractors also plan to expedite work on some of the more vulnerable mains in the distribution system, with replacement of the mains and paving and restorations anticipated to begin in the spring.

“We don’t want a repeat of the Arch Street situation with the road unpaved throughout winter,” Baker said.

The authority has a list with priority projects, including those encompassing the Newberry section, but also projects in South Williamsport and Loyalsock and Old Lycoming townships.

Age of the mains is the primary problem, with some of the pipelines older and unable to provide enough flow to assist firefighters and some that are leaking.

As part of the capital plan, the authority also makes repairs for treatment and equipment upgrades, meter replacements and other distribution improvements. The authority gets its water from reserviors and wells and serves about 18,000 customers,

Looking ahead, additional rate adjustments may be necessary in 2015, depending on the funding opportunities available and interest rates obtained on borrowed funds, Baker said.