Residents of Hutchinson Acres meet with Selectwoman Carol Francesconi about their water woes.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — Users on the Hutchinson Water Co. system are opposing a proposed 65.4 percent rate increase until they get some answers.
"We wanted to reach out to you guys because we need some help," Hutchinson Acres resident Bill Rech told Selectwoman Carol Francesconi last week. "They have legal representation and they are filing motions and we don't have enough time."
Rech was joined by neighbors to tell officials that the abrupt rate hike had blindsided the 118 households in the housing subdivision off Route 8.
The privately owned water system was established more than 50 years ago supply water to Hutchinson Acres.
Rech said the current quarterly base rate is $62.50, which comes out to $250 annually.
Adding on excessive charges, supposedly read from the meters, the average water bill is $360. The highest bill is $979.23.
Rech said this new increase would drive the highest rate to more than $1,600.
He admitted a lot of this is speculation because the cryptic water rate report, created by a Florida-based company, did not clearly state how this increase would be applied and read more like an investment portfolio.
"It was not clearly stated to us," he said. "There were things in it I was flabbergasted to see, like $29,000 for transportation. What does that even mean?"
Rech said he and his neighbors had major concerns with the system and service and that currently there is no one on call for emergencies. They often have to wait days for some kind of response, he said.
He added that the fire hydrants have never been operational and the meter readings are not accurate. One resident noted that he was told that because the meter reader did not have time to read the meters in one cycle, his bill was estimated.
A larger concern the group had was if the system even met state requirements and was regularly tested.
Cheshire Water Department Supervisor Travis Delratez somewhat alleviated the residents' concerns.
"I know that someone was doing the testing but he just retired two weeks ago," he said. "I don't know who they have now."
He added that each user should receive an annual consumer confidence report.
No one could recall ever receiving one.
Delratez said he knew there are some issues within the system but cannot do much about it.
"I know you guys have had issues up there but I can't physically do anything because it is not our system," he said. "I have answered calls and given help to people that do not know what to do when they can't get a hold of someone because I feel bad but my hands are tied."
Rech said the water-rate report they just received showed the owners have been making a profit every year and added that there hasn't been an increase since 1999.
The resident would consider an increase but would need to see some of their concerns addressed.
"We could agree to a 30 percent increase if that meant the hydrants were maintained and we could agree to 5 percent if the meters were read accurately," Rech said. "We understand that we haven't had a rate increase in a while but the system is in shambles. We need the basic needs we are asking for now."
Rech said this "incentive" option was one of the solutions the group came up with. The other option was to have the town take over the system.
"We do understand our rates would increase, that is a given, but that being said we know several things would happen," Rech said. "We would have proper service with a local person on site."
Francesconi dispelled the rumor that the company offered to give the system to the town and said they only offered to sell.
"They did offer it but not for free," she said. "We didn't go any further than that."
The Water Department had no interest in taking over the system and Robert Ciskowski was the lone selectman who considered the takeover, believing the water system could be an asset to the town.
There were some inconsistencies among town officials and employees about what would happen if the system was abandoned.
Francesconi and the Board of Health had the understanding that the town would be forced to take it over while Delratez said there would be no mandate.
"I talked to the [Department of Environmental Protection] about it and they can't make us take on debt," he said. "Not that we don't want to take it over but there is a lot to be done there. They would have a private company come in."
Time was the other concern and Rech said the residents received the letter March 6 and their time to respond has come and gone.
"We are 118 houses and to get 118 houses together to hire an attorney is almost impossible," he said. "We need help."
Francesconi compared the increase to rent control and noted that there is typically a calculation used to determine what an acceptable increase is.
Delratez agreed and urged the residents to undergo a rate study.
"There is so much it can go up over so many years but there is a formula," he said. "I recommend you get a rate study. That tells you where you have to be for new mains, new upgrades and how much you have to increase over how many years."
Francesconi said the state may not approve this increase and noted the Selectmen will have a better idea of what to do after the March 28 meeting between the system owners, residents, and the state.
"I don't think we can make any decisions until we hear what they have to say," she said. "I want to hear their response and what the state thinks. So we will go from there."
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