By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Montclair residents will see a new charge in their water bill in July, increasing water costs by between $25 and $62.25 a quarter for most households.
The addition is an infrastructure charge, which will be used to replace antiquated water service lines.
Water quarterly rates have not increased since 2017, but bills could rise by 73% to 187% for most residential consumers since the Township Council voted through the new charge unanimously on Tuesday, April 20.
Most residents whose water service lines are 1 inch in diameter or smaller currently pay $34 per quarter, according to township officials. This charge, which saw a $1 hike each year from 2015 to 2017, includes 7,480 gallons of water for the quarter. For each additional 748 gallons used, residents pay a rate of $3.74 during January, February, March, October, November and December. From April through September, the rate jumps to $4.49.
From 2015 through 2017, the rate for each additional 748 gallons averaged an annual increase of about 11 cents during non-peak times and 31 cents during peak season, but saw no increase from 2018 on. Those additional water usage rates do not increase under the ordinance the council adopted this week.
The new ordinance creating the new infrastructure charge, however, breaks down service line sizes 1 inch or less into three new categories, each with its own increase:
- Lines that are 5/8 inch x 3/4 inch will see a $25 increase.
- Lines that are 3/4 inch will increase by $37.50.
- Lines that are 1 inch will increase by $62.25.
Most single-family households have 5/8 inch x 3/4 inch water service lines, Township Manager Tim Stafford said.
Gary Obszarny, director of the Water Bureau and Sewer Utility, hadn’t returned a message by press time to explain why the charges will be broken down below 1-inch line sizes.
Obszarny told the council at its April 6 meeting that the increase was needed due to the New Jersey Water Quality Accountability Act of 2017, which established new requirements for purveyors of public water to improve the safety, reliability and administrative oversight of water infrastructure.
“The water utility has a need for capital funds in order to maintain quality and remain compliant with the WQAA and evolving standards,” the ordinance states.
Padmaja Rao, the township’s chief financial officer, said Montclair is also dealing with an aging water delivery system dating to the 1890s and early 1900s, and that at least 90 miles of water service lines need replacing.
Councilman Peter Yacobellis suggested that the increase be put off three months, when the township could apply for funds from infrastructure initiatives in the federal American Jobs Plan, of which $111 billion is proposed to be set aside for local water infrastructure improvements. President Joe Biden has proposed the federal plan, and it’s being debated and negotiated by members of Congress. But Stafford said that money may not be available for two years.
Yacobellis also suggested that the town could increase connection fees. But Stafford said that is only a one-time fee.
“It’s long overdue,” Rao said about Montclair improvements, adding that waiting will only increase costs with replacement projects and result in more water main breaks.
Stafford said the plan is to replace one mile of 6-inch clay pipes with 8-inch modern pipes every year, at an annual cost of $1 million.
In 2020, Montclair had eight water main breaks, including two large breaks in September on South Park Street and Watchung Avenue that flooded streets and took days to repair. Montclair typically sees nine water breaks a year, Obszarny told Montclair Local last year.
For businesses with water service lines over 1 inch, the increases will range from $124.50 for a 1.5-inch line to $4,967 for a 10-inch line.
The township purchases about 5.7 million gallons a day from the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission, according to township spokesperson Katya Wowk. The township paid the utility $1,781,053 last year. It then bills residents based on usage.
Seniors can apply for 25% discounts through the water department.