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WATER DEBATE RESURFACES

January 8, 2013

Marten Bangeman-Johnson from Rural Edge, formally Gilman Housing Trust, and Frank Knoll address the Newport City Council about current water rates. Photo by Christopher Roy

NEWPORT CITY – Two city landlords showered the city council Monday evening with complaints that owners of apartment buildings are not charged the same for water and sewer use as owners of single family homes.
Owners of single family homes pay a fixed cost while many owners of apartment buildings pay their water bills according to their water meters plus a per-living unit fee. Typically, each living unit has its own meter.
Marten Bangeman-Johnson from Rural Edge, formally Gilman Housing Trust, called the surcharge unfair, illogical and discriminatory against people of very modest income. He said that he didn’t have a solution other than installing water meters in every building and have everyone pay the same usage fees and a meter fee based on the number of meters they have.
Bangeman-Johnson said he is aware that over that past year the council held meetings to address installing meters, water conservation and water capacity. Meters are likely the best way to address future issues by lowering water usage, Bangeman-Johnson said.
Using information he obtained from City Manager John Ward Jr., Bangeman-Johnson said the average apartment unit uses about 74-gallons of water per day, the average single family metered home uses an average of 124 gallons per day and the average single family unmetered home uses about 204 gallons per day.
All of Rural Edge’s properties are required to have and do have meters and the organization pays for water usage, but asking property owners to pay an added unit charge is punishing those who live in apartments, Bangeman-Johnson said.
Ten months ago, city voters had a non-binding vote where they sent a clear message that they oppose installing meters in single family homes. In turn, the council voted not to install meters, even though some members favored meters.
City Council President John Wilson said perhaps members could do something to drop the per unit charge. City Manager Paul Monette said the council already did that and came up with a structure that seemed the best way to recoup fixed costs.
“There’s nothing wrong with the rate structure,” said Ward. “If everybody was metered, it would be perfect. The voters decided not to meter. The truth of the matter is single family homes still pay an unfair share in general.”
The council had discussed the issue for 18 months, Ward reminded everyone. He also said there has been an increase in water use in the last three years or so.
During the 18-month discussion, the city installed 109 test meters in single family homes, but the owners don’t get charged the metered rate.
With the upcoming development proposed by Jay Peak Resort owner Bill Stenger, the city will have to conserve water or build a new plant with more capacity, Frank Knoll said. Knoll who also addressed the council agreed with Bangeman-Johnson about the need to install meters, but for now suggests all buildings that use water pay into a fund.

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