Irate residents and public officials of Metropolitan District Non-member Towns packed the meeting hall at the MDC Training Center Wednesday evening to voice their displeasure with the proposed rates for 2014.
Dozens of people stood before the commission to tell their tales of using less than $10 worth of water during a particular quarter - including going so far as to cutting down on showers and car washes - only to see their bill skyrocket by hundreds of dollars in the last year and a half.
At issue for many is a mysterious non-member town surcharge that costs, depending on the meter installed on the premises, between $105.75 and $4,745.07. The MDC had planned on keeping that charge, among others, in place for 2014.
Farmington resident Joe Bonanno, an engineer, said that he was given several reasons by MDC why his bill had increased so markedly: he was using less water, so MDC had to charge more; he didn’t have a sewer contract with MDC and MDC needed to offset infrastructure costs.
Farmington, Bonnano said, is closer to the reservoir than any member town than West Hartford.
“The argument about higher infrastructure costs - you’ll pardon my pun - doesn’t hold water,” he said.
Non-member towns were later told, according to Bonanno, that they have to pay more because MDC undercharged them in the past.
“In the business world, you wouldn’t last long with that approach,” he said. “Because MDC is a municipality and is not regulated, they can do what they want, and non-member towns don’t get to vote. This appears to be a classic case of ‘taxation without representation,’ which affects the most critical commodity we have: water.”
Bonanno was far from alone in his opinion.
The manager of an apartment complex in Manchester said that he has jokingly resorted to telling his married and unmarried tenants to shower together to keep water rates in check.
Barbara Zalasky of Wethersfield said that she had six people living in her home several years ago, and her water bill was under $100 per quarter. Now that she has just two people living at home, her water rate is between $200 and $300 per quarter.
“I use less water now; it’s scary,” she said. “The last bill I got $270.74 for three months.”
South Windsor resident Anne Murray, a retired school teacher, said that her rates had climbed 270 percent in a year and a half.
“That blew my mind,” she said. “Please listen to our pleas.”
Tod Umbach of Glastonbury, whose water bill is $612 annually before he turns on a faucet, was even more lacerating in his comments, calling for the ouster of MDC Chairman William DiBella.
“If you’re going to rob me, at least have the decency of putting on a mask,” he said.
Elected officials from non-member towns - state Sens. Terry Gerratana, Steve Cassano and state Reps. Mike Demicco, Joe Diminico, Bill Aman and Prasad Srinivasan - showed their solidarity on the matter by telling MDC commissioners that they hoped the proposed rates would be rolled back.
They also called on the MDC to give non-member towns a seat at the table through representation on the commission.
“MDC rate hikes are so steep, so astronomical, I felt compelled on behalf of my constituents to be here this afternoon to re-look at them,” said Srinivasan. “I am aware that some surcharges for maintenance costs are for upgrades. That distribution has to be equitable.”
Srinivasan said that one of his constituents calculated that, if he had not used water at all during one quarter, he would have been charged $153.12 anyway or $600 a year.
Srinivasan called on MDC to submit itself to review by the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, as well as opening itself up to a public accounting and review.
“We are not asking for special favors,” he said. “All we are asking is for all of us to be fair and equitable to each other.”
Aman said that this issue had generated the most unsolicited feedback from constituents than any other in the time that he’s been in office.
Before public comment started, DiBella told those in attendance that the proposed 2014 rates would be re-examined.
“[N]ot to dissuade you from sharing your thoughts this evening, but you have been heard,” DiBella said. “As a direct result of your feedback, an expedited review is currently underway. As part of the review, MDC has directed staff to develop rate structures with the goal of mitigating the proposed charges of non-member town customers.”