DMWA plans rate hike to fund repairs

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Water Authority plans $15 quarterly increase for the average customer

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

DowningtownWaterDOWNINGTOWN — Water rates for users of the Downingtown Municipal Water Authority are going to increase in the coming months, as the authority works to pay for badly needed infrastructure improvements.

Hank Hamilton, Assistant Treasurer for the DMWA, made a presentation before Borough Council Wednesday night, detailing both the plans for the rate hike, as well as plans to upgrade infrastructure through 2030.

The immediate impact is this: water rates will increase on the first 5,000 gallons used per quarter from $3.50 to $6.50, or about $15 per quarter in the average residence. The rates on higher amounts will not change. Previously, large volume-users had subsidized homeowners, but Hamilton said, this is something the authority is working to move away from, with the idea that gallonage rates would ultimately be level for all users. 

Hamilton also pointed out that those rates, even with the increase, still remain lower than neighboring municipal water systems.

In past years, the DMWA was able to pay for capital improvements and repairs with tapping fees. But between the fact that the borough is largely built out combined with the economic downturn, fees from new hook ups have dwindled to all but nothing.

The DMWA is working to modernize a water system with elements dating back to the late 1890s, and structural issues that limit water pressure in parts of the borough. With only an estimated 20% of the borough’s fire hydrants able to produce enough pressure to fight fires, a broad program of replacing water lines — 12-inch main lines, as well as eight-inch connectors — is needed to get all of the hydrants working properly. The hydrants, too, some of which date to 1908, will be replaced as well.

As Hamilton described it, the upgrades will be a process, as aged 12-inch line is replaced, followed by 8-inch line. Current 4-inch line would be replaced by either 6-inch or 8-inch lines. When the entire system is upgraded, water pressure can be raised — which should vastly improve the performance of the borough’s hydrants.

In a more than one-hour discussion on the issue, council members had many questions — largely focused on the rate increase (and the impact on those who use the least water) as well at the long-term capital investment plan.

Council President Anthony Gazzerro asked about the authority’s current debt service and whether it might make more sense to refinance the current bond issues and borrow more money to expedite getting the work done.

“2030 to get some of these lines done, is too long,” he said.

Advocating looking at refinancing the bond issue, Gazzerro suggested that it would ultimately save the authority money.

“You’ll save money in the long run,” he said. “This patching (reacting to repair needs as they come up) is killing you.”

Hamilton said he would take council’s concerns back to the authority board, but there were concerns about administrative costs in doing or redoing a bond issue that the authority is leery of.

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