The Portsmouth Water and Fire District (PWFD) announced today that customers will not see tax or rate increases during the next year, according to a release sent to media this afternoon. A one-year delay in the expected increase in the cost of water from Newport factored into the decision, the PWFD said.
The PWFD had increased the tax rate by three cents per thousand laast year to compensate for the drop in assessed values resulting from the Town's 2010 revaluation. Board chair Phil Driscoll said in the statement that the District’s tax rate in fiscal year 2013 will remain unchanged at $0.18 per thousand dollars of assessed property value.
Despite the good news about this year’s rates, Driscoll cautioned customers that rates are projected to increase by an average of 16.75% for three fiscal years starting in FY-2014 based on current information. These increases will be needed, the PWFD said, to offset wholesale rate increases from the City of Newport, needed to fund the replacement of the Lawton Valley Water Treatment Plant in Portsmouth and an upgrade to the Station One Water Treatment Plant in Newport.
Mr. Driscoll indicated that Newport Water received approval from the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission for the water rate increases necessary to fund the $85 million water treatment plant improvements, an effort that Portsmouth Water has supported.
PWFD General Manger and Chief Engineer William McGlinn said that the treatment plant improvements are required to allow Portsmouth Water, the Navy, and Newport Water to meet new Federal water quality standards, in particular, a reduction on the level of trihalomethanes (TTHMs). The three island water suppliers have been in violation of the TTHM standard at various times over the last twelve years under current Federal standards, which are less stringent than the new standards. TTHMs, which the EPA classifies as a potential carcinogen, are a byproduct formed when the chlorine used in water treatment reacts with organic matter. McGlinn added that the new treatment processes should also do a better job at removing compounds which cause taste and odor, and also enable the three water systems to meet future EPA regulations.
On another note, Driscoll announced that the District’s $1.3 million radio meter-reading project, known as Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), will be funded through the Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency and has been approved as a “green” project eligible for 100% principal forgiveness. Other than upfront bonding costs and fees, the project will not cost the District rate-payers any money, according to Driscoll. This project will allow the District to read water meters on an hourly basis through radio transmissions that are transmitted via the Internet. The meter reading data will allow the District to better track water demand and spot potential leakage.
The AMI project will include a new billing system that will enable the District to bill all customers on a quarterly basis beginning in the spring of 2013. The new billing system will also allow customers to view their water accounts and make payments on-line by bank draft or credit card. Driscoll noted that quarterly water bills and the new billing system should help customers better manage the increasing cost of water.
Editorial note: Written from a press release.