HAMPSTEAD — A heat wave and dry spell have boosted water usage to alarming levels, and the Town Council hopes the higher rates it approved Monday night will inspire residents to conserve the limited supply.
But 70 percent of the town households will see only a small increase in waterbills because of moderate use, and 9.5 percent will see no increase because they use so little.
Officials say heavy users -- who they say probably strive for lush, green lawns -- will feel the pinch of a new "block-rate" concept.
In other action, the council voted to maintain the property tax rate at 58 cents per $100 of assessed valuation and approved a 1992 budget of $577,793.49. The budget represents a 7 percent increase over the one ending June 30. No residents commented during the 15-minute public hearing before the vote.
Although the tax rate will stay the same, property owners will see a rise in tax bills because of increased assessments. Annual town taxes on a typical $134,000 home will be $311, plus $1,260 in county taxes.
Starting July 1, water rates will go up slightly for 70 percent of the town's homes that use between6,000 and 20,000 gallons a quarter. The increased rates will show upOct. 1.
The $10 quarterly fee to maintain a hook-up and up to 5,000 gallons won't change. For every 1,000 gallons used between 5,000 and 20,000, a household would pay $1.65 -- a 30-cent increase.
After 20,000 gallons, however, the meter would start running at $3.30 per1,000 gallons, and hit $4.95 per 1,000 gallons after 30,000 gallons.
The average household, using 15,000 gallons a quarter, will see its quarterly bill rise from $23.50 to $26.50.
But a household thatuses 40,000 gallons a quarter will see its bill rise from $57.25 under the old rates to $117.25.
"The block concept would penalize those users -- possibly abusers is a better word," said Mayor C. ClintonBecker.
He said senior citizens -- especially those who live alone and use less than 5,000 gallons of water -- would see little or no increase.
The first step of the increase -- to $1.65 cents per 1,000 gallons -- is just enough to generate the $15,000 to $18,000 needed to pay for higher operating costs, said Town Manager John A. Riley,who proposed the new rate structure.
The increases beyond that for higher users are to discourage excessive running of lawn sprinklersand other waste, Riley said.
"We don't want people giving more money -- we want them to use less water," Riley said.
Matthew Grice,of the Robert's Field homeowners association, said the increase might not be enough to discourage heavy users.
"I hate to think this, but they probably can afford to waste it," Grice said. "Maybe you do need to
outlaw lawn-water use."
Becker said that town water rates haven't gone up in six years, while the electricity used to run the pumps has increased in cost.
Becker said the increased usage is not due to development, but to individual homes using more water thanin the previous month.
Average daily water usage for the town went from 262,000 gallons in April to 294,000 in May, and then to 347,000 so far for June, said Councilman William S. Pearson.
"People leave the hose running all night on the lawn, or all day, and it just runs down the gutter," Pearson said. "That has to stop."
Water fees for business and industry also will rise, but at different rates thanfor homes, and depending on the type of business.
Block rate will affect heavy users