Ligonier Township Municipal Authority (LTMA) customers will be paying a higher rate for water service as part of the authority’s plan for funding the cost of extensive upgrades to its water system infrastructure.
But after the authority’s board met Wednesday, details of the structure of those virtually inevitable rate increases were no clearer than at the start of the meeting.
Earlier this year, Lindsey Greenleaf of Singer Accounting told the board that $4.5 million in proposed water system upgrades to better control pressure throughout the system are feasible, if the LTMA increases its water rates.
In order to maintain a reserve of at least $1 million for any unforeseen repairs or projects and keep an operating surplus of at least $100,000 per year, Greenleaf previously suggested increasing the flat rate for water service from $6 per month ($8 for customers in the Waterford area) to $11. That flat monthly rate would increase by $1 every five years in under the suggested financial plan. Usage fees would also increase, from 84 cents per 100 gallons to 90 cents, with annual increases of 3% to keep up with inflation, she said.
Greenleaf said those figures are based on 20-year financing for the projects through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PennVEST).
The accounting firm reviewed other monthly flat-rate figures before suggesting the increase to $11 per month.
Greenleaf said the suggested rates are in line with other water authorities’ rates.
The proposal calling for a substantial jump in customers’ base rate for water didn’t sit well with LTMA board chairman Glen Kalp, who worried about the effect on low-income customers and those on fixed incomes. He suggested adjusting rates more on the usage side, allowing customers on a tight budget more control over the extent to which their water bills increase by conserving water.
Greenleaf said compared to an increase in the base rate, a usage-based increase would be less predictable in terms of the revenue it would generate to help cover the debt service on the water project.
LTMA manager Anthony “Griff” Griffith said the authority could also explore changing the way its biggest water consumers are billed — charging a base water rate calculated using the equivalent dwelling unit (EDU) method common in sewage billing.
The board voted to schedule a work session to specifically discuss and debate the potential water system rate increase options, but did not announce a date or time for that work session at Wednesday’s meeting.
Griffith said previously that the planned water system improvements are intended to manage water pressure throughout the LTMA system — reducing pressure in low-lying areas prone to leaks and increasing it at higher elevations.
A water storage tank in the Darlington area is among the potential improvements.
With Idlewild & SoakZone connected to the LTMA water system in that part of the township, periods of heavy water usage by the park can greatly reduce water pressure for other customers. Previous LTMA manager Josh Kalp had listed a storage tank in the Darlington area as a future capital improvement priority in 2018.
Along with a storage tank near Darlington, work in several other areas of the water system would help manage water pressure, Griffith said.
Connecting two separate water lines to create a “loop” along Robb Road in the Wilpen area could boost water pressure for customers. Meanwhile, adding “pressure pits” in a section of the system not far from the township municipal building where water pressure is higher than desired could reduce pressure and hopefully decrease the frequency of pressure-induced leaks. The pressure would need to be increased again in order to feed water uphill to a water storage tank in the Oakwood Hills area of the township.
The project also proposes a new water line between the Waterford water treatment plant, which is fed by a well, and the LTMA slow sand filtration water treatment plant near the authority’s 17-million-gallon reservoir. The existing water line used to distribute water from the Waterford plant directly to customers would remain in place but would be taken out of service under the plan.
The LTMA board did direct Griffith to purchase and install magnetic flow meters on the system’s water storage tanks to get a clearer picture of the amount of water flowing into and out of the tanks.
Griffith explained after the meeting that ideally, the flow into and out of the tanks would match, gallon-for-gallon. If flow in is greater than the outflow, the “magmeters” will let the authority know how much water it’s losing from the tank, he said.
The board also approved having LTMA solicitor Dan Hudock and representatives from sewer system engineering firm Gibson-Thomas Engineering Co. Inc. review and revise the rules and regulations for the sewer side of the LTMA operation. The sewer system rules and regulations were created in 1973 and last updated in 1990.