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Westmoreland

Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County water bills will increase

Rich Cholodofsky
| Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County water customers will pay higher bills for the second consecutive year, as agency board members Wednesday approved a $96 million operating budget that includes a 7 percent rate hike.

The increase previously was approved in 2016 as part of a new, three-year rate structure that saw water customers pay 25 percent more last year. Another 7 percent rate hike is planned for next year.

“The increase is needed to accomplish the upgrades we wanted to fulfill,” authority board Chairman Randy Roadman said.

Residential water customers will pay on average $2.82 more monthly because of the increase, according to authority business manager Brian Hohman. The new rates take effect in April.

The increase will generate about $3 million in additional revenue, Hohman said.

Officials implemented the rate hikes to accommodate a $140 million capital improvement project finalized last year to replace water lines, upgrade water treatment facilities and install new equipment throughout the system, which provides water to more than 120,000 customers in five counties.

The authority also has more than 24,000 sewer customers. Sewer rates will not increase in the next fiscal year.

The budget approved Wednesday includes more than $11 million in additional revenues, most of it from new sewer customers acquired by last year's purchase of the Hempfield municipal authority.

Officials said additional revenue was needed to balance the budget after the agency last year borrowed to finance the planned improvement projects and to offset other losses.

Royalties from natural gas drilling on authority property are expected to generate only $2 million this year, a substantial reduction because of a global glut and falling prices. Two years ago, the authority received about $6 million in royalties from energy companies that leased property for gas wells.

Revenue from water sales also has declined.

Hohman said the closing of the Allegheny Technologies Inc. Bagdad steel plant in Gilpin is expected to cost the authority about $1 million in raw water sales. And overall, the authority is selling less treated water to residential customers.

The authority sold more than 8 billion gallons of water in 2011. That number dipped last year by more than 800 million gallons in part due to conservation efforts through low-flow appliances and customers' general concern about using less water, Hohman said.

“Customers are using less water, so there is less revenue for us. We have to make that up somewhere,” Hohman said.

Overall, officials said revenues are expected to cover all proposed expenses over the next year. The authority is projected to finish the 2017-18 budget year with a $391,000 surplus.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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