The Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) is looking back and rethinking a deal already made with Bloomfield-based Niagara Bottling.
Given the state's drought situation, the MDC Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday to reconsider incentivizing such a high consumption of water. Instead, pushing the issue to a public hearing on Dec. 5.
“We’re encouraged they want to suspend their discounts, but we really want them discontinued," Valerie Rossetti said.
Rossetti is a member of the group Save Our Water.
"We have deferred the water rate, the industrial rate to a public hearing for Dec. 5, 2016 and we’ve also deferred the sewer surcharge, which reduced the cost if you were to exceed 500,000 gallons a day in water consumption. If the board decides in December they want to suspend the industrial rate and the special sewer service charge ordinance reduction, that would happen on the fifth," MDC CEO Scott Jellison told NBC Connecticut.
Drought like conditions across Connecticut has played a role in the move, recommended by Jellison.
"Given the sensitivity to the drought the entire state is experiencing, we believe and I believe and the board and chairman believes we should reconsider incentivizing a high consumption. The MDC is about to enter our first drought trigger which is 75 percent on Nov. 30, 2016. At the same time December 1, 2016, we're planning to have to support New Britain with five to seven million gallons a day because they're in a severe drought."
The discounted rate was worth $4 million, and $6 million without the discount.
"That's the exact opposite of conservation pricing. We're in a drought, over half the state is in an extreme drought so pricing water, the more you buy, the less you pay is just the opposite of what we want to be doing. It’s also an environmentally harmful product in our view, it’s necessary in certain disaster setting. This water, a lot will be taken out of the state, and out of the watershed. Springs around the state will be used to add to the bottled water, so we don’t actually think this particular industry should have been encouraged by these large discounts to set up in Connecticut and my town of Bloomfield," Rossetti said.
Derieth L. Sutton, the Director of Economic Development and Government Relations for Niagara Bottling, sent NBC Connecticut a statement on behalf of the company:
“Despite our agreement, Niagara will not challenge the MDC in the event its board votes to reverse its ordinance for volume discounts. During a time when our neighbors are facing economic hardship, we should come together as a community to deal with the challenges posed by Hartford's finances and those posed by the drought throughout the state. Niagara will be doing its part by supporting local initiatives and by continuing to offer good jobs.”
Also on the fifth of December, the MDC will hold a public comment period about whether to increase the raw water rate, which the city of New Britain is using.
"Our discussion about the rate structure has started. We start early in September. And the biggest challenge we and all utilities have, especially during a drought, the only time we use that raw water rate is when we're giving a reduction to a homeowner or a business because they may have had a leak. And we utilize a raw water rate as giving them a break, in terms of some kind of rate because it wasn't their fault. In order to incentivize property owners to take care of their plumbing in home or business, the recommendation from our staff was to raise that rate so there was an incentive, in the sense of penalty if you don't take care of plumbing on your property. So that was the reason to raise it from $1.00 to $2.00 given now we have an issue with New Britain. We removed that as part of the budget process today and we're going to defer that as well to a public comment so people have a chance to talk about it," Jellison added.
Also as part of the budget, the MDC Board of Commissioners voted to add a reserve in the budget for all eight member towns to make sure the MDC can receive funding if the city of Hartford does not make its last two sewer payments for July and October of 2017 according to Jellison
"What we've put in the budget is a reserve of those two payments which is $5.8 million and in order to collect 100 percent of $5.8 million, we have to actually charge more because we cannot change the percentage each town pays. If you take Hartford out and they're 26 percent of 100 percent and you apply 74 percent times 5.8 million you still don't get 5.8 million," Jellison explained to NBC Connecticut. "So we need to raise that rate divide basically by 74 percent so we can collect 100 percent of $5.8 million."
Peter Souza, town Manager for MDC member town of Windsor, said it was, "a difficult situation, not only for Hartford and the member towns, but also for the entire district. I think the towns understand the need for the mechanism, the need for MDC to protect their financial status, wellbeing if you will, so reluctantly the towns do see it as a needed tool."
Windsor taxpayers could see a staff recommendation to the town council, to, "use our reserve fund and to be able to in case Hartford does not make their payments. We would ask the town council to make a payment out of our general fund reserve account. It would be $700,000.00 potentially in October of 2017," Souza told NBC Connecticut.
Hartford's mayor, Luke Bronin, also weighed in:
"We will do everything we can possibly do to get Hartford on the path to fiscal sustainability, but it's going to take fundamental changes at the state level this year -- because the root of the problem is that half of Hartford's property is non-taxable, and we have less taxable property than some of our much smaller suburban neighbors. We have to decide, as a state, whether we want a healthy, strong capital city and capital region. We've been saying for months that Hartford's fiscal health matters to the whole region, and this is just one of many examples of why that's true."