Dagsboro citizens upset about potential water price hike

Dagsboro citizens are not excited about a possible increase in water rates. Town Council hosted a public hearing and workshop Nov. 1 to begin addressing the many issues, from budget deficit to a possible faulty water meter.

Jean Holloway presented a water rate analysis to the council and public on behalf of Delaware Rural Water Association, a nonprofit group providing free technical assistance to small towns.

The small meeting room was filled with approximately two dozen attendees who asked questions throughout the presentation.

“I understand where everybody’s coming from,” Holloway began. “Nobody wants to pay more for water. I don’t want to pay more for water.”

In June, the Town adopted the 2012 water budget, which includes a total of $244,934 in expenses: $24,378 in basic overhead costs; $107,896 in operation and maintenance; and $112,660 in debt service, meaning repayment of loans that purchased the water system.

However, town’s water revenue would only be $222,805, causing a projected deficit of $22,129.

Meanwhile, the town also wants to create a reserve fund and eventually build its own water system.

Currently, Dagsboro residents pay a monthly fee of $40 for up to 3,000 gallons. Every additional 1000 gallons costs another $3. For example, 5,000 gallons would cost $46.

Most of the money is spent in repayment of long-term, low-interest government loans that connected residents to town water. So Holloway suggested people consider that they’re paying $40 to connect and getting several thousand gallons for free.

Holloway said towns often wait too long to raise rates, resulting in a sudden, massive rate increase. A subtle increase of a few percent each year is often more manageable.

“The mayor and council didn’t invent the numbers,” Holloway said. “The numbers are something that they’re trying to find a way to deal with. The costs of the system are the costs of the system.”

Holloway presented several price adjustment scenarios, which result in various deficits or surplus. She recommended that Dagsboro charge $40 for only 2000 gallons and add $4 or $5 per additional 1000 gallons. So 5,000 gallons would cost $52 or $55.

This rate would significantly cut the deficit.

“All I did was try to crunch the numbers and try to slice the pie up,” Holloway said. “I can’t change the size of the pie.”

Dagsboro connects to Millsboro

Dagsboro gets water from the town of Millsboro, which raised rates 20 percent from $2.50 to $3 approximately two years ago during adoption of their budget, said Stacey Long, town administrator. As one of Millsboro’s largest customers, Dagsboro was not notified until the bill arrived a month later.

Long said this is legal because the item was listed on Millsboro Town Council’s agenda prior to the meeting.

Rather than pass the price increase immediately on to citizens, Dagsboro chose to hold a public hearing and discuss the issue.

A major issue appears to be the town water meter. The town believes, but cannot confirm, that the water meter is faulty.

Long said several professionals think the water flowing back to Millsboro is not being credited because the meter fails to measure small amounts of backflow.

Dagsboro hopes to test this theory with Millsboro in the next few weeks, Long said. For 90 days, Dagsboro would install a separate town meter and halt the water from flowing back to Millsboro. Ideally, the water would all be accounted for, resulting in appropriate measurements and billings.

The 2012 budget is based on what Dagsboro paid to Millsboro, but the 2.5 million monthly gallons is only an estimate.

Last year, Millsboro charged Dagsboro for over 35.6 million gallons of water, but only 48 percent of that was billed to Dagsboro residents. The other 52 percent was unaccounted for. In a normal system, Holloway said only 10 to 15 percent of water should be unaccounted for.

Holloway said there appear to be no leaks in the system. Only fire hydrants are not metered. Town Hall and Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Department are metered, but are not charged for water usage.

Citizens share concerns

There are approximately 400 water customers in Dagsboro, said Long. In May 2005, all residents were required to connect to town water within 12 months. The tone of some citizens indicated this was done reluctantly. Personal wells can be maintained for outdoor use only, and only one resident has failed to connect, Long said.

Residents at the hearing indicated they did not want a price increase. Several people rejected an increase until the discrepancy with Millsboro is resolved, be it meter or another issue.

In letters sent to the council, one citizen suggested Dagsboro annex more properties to spread out the water costs. Another person recommended a multi-tier system so larger households pay more than the smaller. Holloway’s recommended 2,000-gallon minimum mirrors this suggestion.

Several people questioned the water quality. Resident Joseph McComas said he could sometimes compare the color of the water in his house to the golden-brown wall paneling at the public hearing. With two long-term water filters that only last six weeks in his house, McComas said, “Our water is lousy.”

“We’re aware of that,” said Mayor Patti Adams. “We know that the quality at times is not what we would want, including my own house. And they will come out if you will call Town Hall. I know this isn’t the answer, but they’re supposedly doing what they can in Millsboro. Please call Town Hall,” Adams encouraged.

“I don’t know the quality of the water unless you call and let us know,” Long said. “I want to have people tell us so I can have something to stand on to Millsboro. Call me, give me a location. We will have someone there.”

Long said Millsboro and the Rural Water Association flush hydrants for free, but Artesian Water charges for that service.

Holloway said an old peat bog causes a lot of organics in the water for Millsboro, Dagsboro, Frankford, and possibly Ocean View.

Another gentleman said the water is then sometimes over-treated with chlorine.

Two councilmembers were absent from the hearing, so Town Council chose to delay discussion and possible action until the next regular meeting, Monday, Nov. 21.