Water rates to increase Jan. 1
Published: Monday, October 31, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 04:11
The city of Newark will raise its water utility rates by 14.5 percent starting Jan. 1, a measure in a resolution approved at a Newark City Council meeting last week.
The increase, the first since 2009, was proposed to provide funds to improve and repair the city's aging water infrastructure, which in some places is 50 years old or older.
Roy Simonson, director of the city's water and wastewater department, said the city's infrastructure needs repairs and changes. He said the projects include dam replacements on White Clay Creek, water main renovation or replacements and ongoing water tank maintenance. City council has also been concerned with the discoloration of local water, which is a result of corrosion in the aging pipes.
"We look at a five-year capital improvement program for planning purposes but it really is an ongoing activity that we need to be prepared to undertake," Simonson said.
He said some of the city's water pipes are nearly half a century old and are not lined with concrete.
Simonson also said a significant portion of the city's infrastructure still has cast iron pipes since they were installed before the 1960s, when pipe manufacturers began making them out of stronger materials. He said these pipes are all over the city's water system, and while they have a long lifespan, it isn't feasible to continue to rely on older pipes.
"Main Street pipes were put in the early 1900s." he said. "In fact, we found a pipe on Main Street that had a date on the pipe in the late 1800s."
District 6 City Councilman Stu Markham said he believes the city would be in trouble if the infrastructure failed and broke in places such as the dam near the Curtis Paper Mill. The dam currently feeds water into the city's treatment plant.
"My point is that we're doing important maintenance to make sure that we continue to provide clean water," Markham said. "The other issues are water quality, water pressure and brown water these are all things that are being addressed in these projects and they are not cheap."
State Rep. John Kowalko (D-Newark South) said he wants to address certain comparisons made by Kansas-based consulting firm Black & Veatch in a report on water rates in the Newark area, which he believed incorrect.
Kowalko said he did not agree with the justification for raising water rates because Newark's water rates would be cheaper than other areas despite the increase in cost.
"I don't care what they are here or there, I care about what the consumers and the constituents of the city of Newark and those who use the water—what they have to pay," Kowalko said.
He said comparatively, the rates in the city of Wilmington are cheaper even for out-of-city residents.
"We have to look at how we compare these things if we're going to justify something that I think that could become an overbearing cost on the citizens," Kowalko said.
He wants to address a part of the water rates report to the city which stated some income from utility costs would be used for the city's general fund.
"This raises questions which were brought to me such as, ‘Are water rates being used to balance and subsidize the budget?' and more importantly, ‘Are the disproportionally billed out-of-town customers subsidizing and operational budget for services that they do not enjoy?'" Kowalko said.
He also highlighted a section of the report that called for a continuing annual increase to rates of 7.2 percent. He said municipalities have a monopoly on utilities they provide to their residents. "[The city] cannot continue overburdening, not my customers, not my constituents, but your customers and your constituents with these increases at this time," Kowalko said.
Ron Walker, 70, of Kells Avenue said he has been contacting the city about water problems at his home for 27 months until recently.
Walker said he feels what the city has done recently is not enough.
"Drinking water is one of the most critical things and when there is a problem it should be fixed immediately," Walker said. "I feel that it's wrong for them to raise our water rates when our water quality has gone down."
He said he believes city officials are trying to make up for the long time they ignored issues with the infrastructure.
"I think they realized they have to do work on it, and now that they realized that they don't have any surplus to work on it so they have to zap us to be able to do repairs," Walker said. "They haven't set aside money to prepare for it and now it's caught up with them so they need a way to get funds."
He believes the city has not considered long term repairs to the water infrastructure relying instead on short term repairs on Kells Avenue and other areas.
"This doesn't make sense when you are talking about an infrastructure that is going to be there for years to come," Walker said. "Instead of performing surgery they are using Band-Aids."