MANCHESTER -- Residents upset with huge increases in their quarterly water and sewer bills that were due last week may be going into tomorrow night's meeting with Town Council members hoping for a change.
But, town officials acknowledge, the chances of their changing those rates -- now among the highest in the county -- are close to none.
"Money is money, and there's nothing we can do to change that," said Councilman John A. Riley, the Hampstead manager who was instrumental in devising the rates that went into effect for water used during April, May and June.
"The bottom line is that we have to come up with a certain amount of money to operate the sewage treatment plant," he said yesterday. "And we don't have many options."
Close to 90 town residents stormed the usually quiet and sparsely attended regular council meeting on July 14 with gripes and threats over bills that, for some people, were four times higher than under last year's rates.
Some business owners brought water bills that changed as much as 300 percent, and some homeowners complained of bills that were the size of their mortgage payments.
The new rates, approved as part of the town's $1.1 million budget -- its largest ever -- are designed with two things in mind, officials said.
"We need to raise the money, and we want to conserve water," Mr. Riley said.
The rates are tiered, with the higher rates assigned to higher usage. Sewage rates are a flat 2.6 times the water bill.
In other parts of the county, only the proposed rates for customers served by the county's Freedom District Sewage Treatment Plant are higher.
The Freedom rates would jump from $238 a year to $544 a year for the average 20,000-gallon-a-quarter residential user. For people living outside of Westminster but served by its water and sewer systems, current annual levies are $494 for the average user.
In Westminster, the annual average tally is $343; in Hampstead it is $295; and in Manchester, the new average levy is expected to be $446, nearly $120 higher than it was last year.
Residents at last week's council meeting shouted suggestions -- some of them unprintable -- to the council members. Among the options was to shift the increasing cost of paying for the town's $11 million sewage treatment plant from water and sewer bills straight to the tax rate.
The tax rate -- already the county's lowest -- was dropped from 42 cents to 39 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Some residents expressed puzzlement at such a move and suggested that the council rethink the tax rate.
L That option is considered highly unlikely by town officials.
This year alone, sewer and water costs jumped from $336,000 last year to $619,000 this year. To accommodate that increase in spending, the tax rate would have had to been raised to nearly $1.10 per $100. Such an increase before the beginning of the next fiscal year is a moot issue anyway, since the tax rate cannot be changed until a new budget is adopted.
Two possible -- if not subtle -- changes are possible, officials say. They could go to a billing cycle of two months -- instead of the current three -- in an effort to keep the amounts of any single bill low. Another is a possible reconfiguration of business rates.
The meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. tomorrow. Tonight's regularly planned council meeting has been canceled.