Water, sewer rates won’t see increase

The Altoona Water Authority won’t increase water or sewer rates for 2014 – the first time since 2008 that it will have raised neither one.

The authority is keeping the status quo because payback on debt for two costly sewer plant renovations has leveled off, the renovations have reduced plant operation costs, health care concessions on a new union contract offset a wage hike, and the authority is generally cutting costs, according to authority officials.

The authority isn’t raising sewer rates this year despite having only increased them for three years out of a projected four-year climb beginning in 2011 that would have added a cumulative 58 percent to handle the plant renovations.

The three increases it has enacted add up to only 33 percent.

The authority incurred about $50 million debt for the renovations – which included grant funds totaling $14.6 million.

The renovations have reduced the need for chemicals – the westerly plant has been using none, while the easterly plant has been using only a little – and for electricity, according to in-house engineer Mike Sinisi.

The union agreed to health care concessions that include starting to pay a share of monthly premiums – 5 percent – and the doubling of deductibles to $500 and $1,000.

Offsetting their additional costs, workers will receive 2 percent raises for each of the three years of the contract.

The authority last raised water rates in 2011, when it increased them by 4 percent.

The year before, water rates rose 8 percent, and the year before that, 6 percent.

Before 2008 – the last year for keeping the status quo on rates, there were increases for every previous year back to 2003 – although one of those years, that increase was only a rate-block adjustment affecting high-volume water users.

Authority rates remain reasonable, according to member Tom Martin, who cited a consulting engineer’s earlier remark that its water rates are 25 percent lower than those of a major private supplier in the state.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union local approved the contract 43-12, said authority labor attorney Dave Andrews.

The old contract will expire at the end of the year.

Most public-sector contracts don’t get settled by expiration of the current contracts, he said.

“It’s good to get ’em done,” he said.