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Downtown Pittsfield to see jump in water rates

Water rates for more than 600 customers in Pittsfield are set to jump by 7 percent, as Pittsfield Aqueduct seeks tens of thousands of extra dollars in revenue to cover its operating costs.

The revenue shortfall of roughly $63,909 is due to less water use per customer, fewer customers and increased property taxes, according to a ruling by the Public Utilities Commission, which approved the rate increase last month. Pittsfield Aqueduct is seeking a permanent increase of 9.34 percent that requires a lengthier approval process. The temporary 7 percent will bring in roughly $47,900 and mitigate future rate shock. The increase will be retroactive to July 1 of this year, the PUC’s order said. For the average residential customer, this means an extra $3.47 per month and an annual increase of roughly $690 to $730.

In its order, the PUC wrote that the 7 percent increase “appropriately balances the interests of customers with the interests of shareholders.”

The increase will be spread uniformly across the different customer classes, which include residential homes, businesses and municipal services. Pittsfield Aqueduct filed a notice of intent to seek a rate increase in April and notified consumers before July 1 about the pending rate increase. Once a permanent rate is set, customers will owe the difference dating back to July 1, according to the PUC’s order.

The Office of the Consumer Advocate, which intervened in the case, did not object to the PUC’s order.

Pittsfield Aqueduct is the primary water provider for downtown Pittsfield, said Larry Konopka, chairman of the board of selectmen. The Pittsfield water treatment plant is located on Catamount Road. Pittsfield Aqueduct is a subsidiary of Pennichuck Corp., which merged with the city of Nashua in 2012.

John Patenaude, chief executive officer of Pennichuck, said these increases are actually less than what they would have been had Pennichuck not merged with the city of Nashua. That merger cut Pennichuck’s expenses by more than $1 million. Without the merger, Pittsfield’s rates could have gone up by 18 to 20 percent, he said.

In a 2010 rate case, the PUC approved annual revenue of roughly $740,000 for Pittsfield Aqueduct, but the company’s revenue in 2012 was only $683,000, according to PUC filings.

Konopka said he and the selectmen need to do more research on the rate increases, and he will add a discussion about it to the agenda for the selectmen’s Dec. 17 meeting.

“We do not like to see an increase in this economy,” he said.

The town already has a committee studying water services, he said, although the group doesn’t have any actions planned.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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