Water and Sewer Company numbers for July come in strong

Thu, 08/20/2020 - 6:45pm

In the early months of 2020, the uncertainty on whether or not there would be any business on the island during the summer was heightened enough that town financial planners braced for a 50 percent drop in revenue associated with tourism.

The Wastewater Treatment plant and the Water Company were no exception. The two departments planned to dig deep into their cash reserves. But the numbers for July were surprisingly high.

Assistant Finance Director Mona Helterline provided the data to the members of the Water and Sewer Commission on Monday, Aug. 17.

For the Water Company, July 2020 saw an eight percent decrease in revenues over what was collected in 2019.

The Sewer Company saw a 9.5 percent drop in revenue compared to 2019.

The numbers for August are not expected to be as strong, in part because of the sudden travel ban that was implemented by four neighboring states, which was rescinded a month later.

“All in all we lucked out,” said Helterline. “Any unanticipated revenue reduces the use of reserves and will allow us to maintain a healthy reserve level.”

The contribution from the Water Company’s reserve fund for 2021 was approved at $201,966 (as opposed to $0 for the past two years). The contribution from the Sewer Company’s reserve account was approved at $279,644 at the Financial Town Meeting for both companies that was held on July 6.

Looking to the future

Water Company Supt. John Breunig and Wasterwater plant Supt. Dylan Chase have proposed sitting down with the members of the Planning Board to see if the flow capacities for each department could be factored in as new developments are being planned.

With a recent Town Council vote that approved denser development in the Old Harbor District, a bulb went off inside Breunig, who said that each new big development causes an increase in the demand for water.

“We do a capacity review every October,” said Breunig. “I wanted to review with the Planning Board how we fit into their development plans and to see what is the bigger picture as the Water Company reaches capacity.”

Breunig said such a review hasn’t been done in 15 or 20 years. Chase said that the “sewer does have a greater capacity at this time, but being involved in planning is certainly something that is in everyone’s interest. A larger role and a seat should be awarded to both of us.” Chase said that Town Engineer Jim Geremia should also be involved. Clerk Suzy Garneau will write a letter to the Planning Board asking for a meeting.

Water main replacement

The Water Company’s $2.4 million High Street/Payne Road water main replacement project will go out to bid in September and the bid will be awarded sometime in mid-October. The funding for the project was approved at the Financial Town Meeting in late July.

The project will be funded through a variety of sources, including a federal grant and by Block Island taxpayers who may or may not be Water Company customers. The members of the Water Commission had pitched the idea of going to town voters for the 25 percent because the water main services the entire downtown area.

Breunig said customers of the Water Company will be responsible for about $1 million of the project.