Harrisburg water and sewer customers will see higher bills in 2015, following a unanimous vote to increase water rates Tuesday afternoon by the board of Capital Region Water, the city’s water and sewer authority.
Under the hike, the current water consumption charge of $6.61 per 1,000 gallons will increase by 57 cents to $7.18, while an additional “ready to serve” fee, currently $5.22, will increase by 45 cents to $5.67.
The effect on the average customer’s monthly bill will be an increase of $3.29, according to a company press release, which based its calculation on an average consumption rate of 5,000 gallons per month.
Harrisburg sewer rates, meanwhile, will remain at $6.05 per 1,000 gallons consumed, the same as last year.
Those billing rates will provide the necessary revenues for the authority’s 2015 budget, also adopted at Tuesday’s meeting.
The $48 million budget sets aside $10 million for capital improvements, $13 million for debt service and $20 million for operations and maintenance.
It also provides for the hiring of 21 new employees, a number that board chairman Marc Kurowski said he found excessive during Tuesday’s meeting.
“Nobody is expanding at that rate,” Kurowski said, noting that the refashioned authority, which took over water and sewer operations from the city last year, is effectively a new company. “We gotta walk before we can run,” he said.
But CEO Shannon Williams said that staffing levels were still low relative to the authority’s workload. “We’re not big enough for what we need to get done,” she said.
Also on Tuesday, Williams announced an agreement with federal and state regulators that provides a timeline for reaching compliance with laws governing pollution of local streams.
The agreement begins to address a number of violations that the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection discovered during inspections in 2010 and 2012.
Among those violations were dry-weather overflows of the city’s combined sewer and stormwater system and failure to adhere to certain permits and long-term plans related to the system’s discharges into Paxton Creek and the Susquehanna River.
The agreement, known as a partial consent decree, sets forth some initial steps for bringing the system into compliance, and is primarily focused on gathering information, Williams said.
A future agreement will set out tangible steps the authority can take to comply fully with regulations, a process which Williams said could take upwards of 20 years.
The current agreement, which the Capital Region Water board is scheduled to discuss and vote on at a public meeting on Dec. 17, does not include any civil penalties for the authority. Williams emphasized that the absence of such penalties meant that any increase in billing rates would be put towards improvements in the water and sewer system, rather than towards fines.
Michelle Price-Faye, the chief of the enforcement branch of the EPA’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System for the mid-Atlantic region, said Wednesday that although penalties are not part of the current agreement, they can still be assessed at a later date.
Harrisburg’s recent near-bankruptcy was a consideration in the agreement, Price-Faye said, although she added that the financial circumstances of the regulated party are always considered during the negotiation of such agreements.
In explaining the violations Tuesday, Williams referred to a long history of deferred maintenance on the water and sewer systems, as revenues from ratepayers were siphoned off to fund other city expenses.
As part of their inquiry, regulators asked for records of routine maintenance of the system, but Williams said the authority was unable to locate them.
“I don’t believe they exist,” she said.