Township Council members are expected to pass a resolution tonight opposing United Water Toms River's request for a 24 percent rate increase that would raise water costs for the average home in Berkeley to $47.10 per month, Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr. said.
"This would be the second increase in three years," Amato said. "These are difficult economical times for everyone. For United Water to ask for a 24 percent increase is unconscionable. I will ask the Township Council to approve a resolution opposing the increase and authorizing our attorney to intervene on behalf of the residents to fight against this increase."
United Water Toms River services roughly 120,000 homes in the Holiday City, Silver Ridge Park and Manitou Park sections of Berkeley Township, in addition to Toms River.
"Just a few short years ago, the average monthly residential bill for customers using 5,000 gallons saw their bill rise from $6.37 to $37.71," the mayor said. " If this increase were approved, those same customers would see their bills rise an additional $9.39 from $37.71 to $47.10."
United Water Operations Director Rick Pfleiderer said the increase is needed to recover roughly $18 million in water system improvements the company has made or is currently working on since its last rate filing three years ago.
“We fully recognize that nobody likes to see any increase in their water rates," Pfleiderer said. "However, this filing is related to improvements we have made and are currently making to the water treatment and water distribution system that directly benefit our customers. We are very mindful of our costs and have been completely transparent in our explanation of the need for rate relief to our customers and elected officials.”
Amato said the township has a "good working relationship" with Pfleiderer and hopes that will continue. But the township will still push to have the increase substantially reduced or eliminated, he said.
"Rick has been very open, honest and transparent to our municipality." Amato said.
Pfleiderer said the company has invested nearly $5.6 million in new water transmission mains - replacing older mains and also new mains - to bring service to new customers. In addition, United Water installed distribution mains to help with system redundancy in an effort to improve service reliability and fire fighting pressure.
The company also invested $2.7 million improving the process at its Berkeley Water Treatment Plant, which eliminates radionuclides from the drinking water, and at its Holly Water Treatment Plant, which treats volatile organic chemicals, he said.
United Water also made improvements to its aquifer storage and recovery wells to improve its ability to provide water during the crucial summer months, Pfleiderer said.
“We’ve made some significant investments to improve and maintain quality service for our customers,” he said. “These improvements were necessary for us to continue to ensure the safety and reliability of our water system and to meet increasingly stringent water quality regulations."
United Water also launched a new $3.5 million customer information and billing computer system last fall, Pfleiderer said.
The upgrade of the customer service system coincided with the implementation of a $2.8 million investment in a new, automatic meter reading system. The new meters send electronic signal which are picked up by a data reader. The new system eliminates the need for meter readers, Pfleiderer said.