SOUTHINGTON — Town residents will get billed twice for their sewer usage in the upcoming fiscal year, first this spring in a yearly bill and then quarterly under the new sewer billing system starting in the new fiscal year.
Republican town councilors and town officials say the double billing is needed to get revenues for the wastewater treatment plant back on track. Democratic councilors criticized the system as unfair to rate payers.
Revenue generated from yearly bills that will go out in April, May and June will pay for sewer plant expenses in the 2013-14 fiscal year. Town Manager Garry Brumback said the sewer plant started falling behind financially as revenues failed to meet rising expenses.
“Somewhere along the line, we weren’t keeping up,” he said.
While annual bills that come out this spring say that they’re for sewer services in the upcoming fiscal year, Brumback said that doesn’t represent the reality of what those bills fund.
The yearly bills will pay for last fiscal year’s expenses, Brumback said, while the new bills under the new structure will pay for expenses incurred in the upcoming fiscal year.
Beginning in the fiscal year starting July 1, bills will be sent out quarterly for the previous three months. Residents can choose to wait until next year to pay their quarterly bills all at once as an annual bill.
Last month, the Town Council voted to change the sewer fee system and move to quarterly, automated billing. Republicans, who passed the change, said the new system more accurately bills residents for water used and will address revenue shortfalls that have persisted at the sewer plant for years.
Democrats opposed the new billing system. John Barry, a Democratic councilor, said it amounted to double billing and questioned its legality.
“I don’t think it’s a fair process,” he said.
Brumback said the Town Council is the town’s sewer authority and can set sewer fees and rates in any way it chooses.
“There’s nothing illegal about it,” Brumback said.
He acknowledged the burden it would place on residents. Low-income elderly residents can apply for lower sewer rates, Brumback said. The maximum income to receive lower rates is $34,100 for an individual and $41,600 for a couple.
Other low-income residents can appeal to Town Hall and their situation will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Dawn Miceli, a Democratic councilor, said the town’s reserve funds should have been used to stanch the operating losses at the plant and more time taken in creating a new sewer billing system.
Reserve funds also should be used to mitigate sewer fee increases in the upcoming fiscal year.
“It’s an undue burden on the taxpayers,” she said. “I don’t know how people are going to be able to handle this double billing.”
Victoria Triano, a Republican councilor, said the billing system was necessary for the plant to begin paying for services up front.
“It’s not really double billing,” Triano said. “The billing we’re doing in the upcoming months is for services we’ve already received.”
“We were looking backwards. We were receiving and we were paying for the services we had already received,” she said.
Triano said it would be a “painful year” for some and she wouldn’t have supported the change without an appeals process for low-income residents.