Riverhead Water District Superintendent Frank Mancini makes his pitch for a rate restructuring plan at the July 28 town board work session. Photo: Alek Lewis

The cost of water for Riverhead Water District customers will be going up again to cover rising expenses, with the district’s largest customers bearing the brunt of the increase, if a rate restructuring plan proposed by Water District Superintendent Frank Mancini is adopted by the Town Board.

Mancini proposed changing Riverhead’s water billing system to a two-tier rate structure, with a higher rate per thousand gallons for usage over certain gallonage thresholds in a three-month billing cycle. He said the system rewards water conservation and will have the largest impact on the water district’s biggest customers. Mancini estimated around 20% of the district’s total customers will exceed first-tier thresholds in a billing cycle and move to the second-tier rate.

The tier-one rate threshold for nearly all residential customers — who typically have either five-eighths of an inch or 1-inch meters — will be 90,000 gallons. The tier-one threshold for commercial and institutional customers — whose meters range in size from 1.5 to 10 inches — will be 290,000 gallons to 2.3 million gallons, depending on meter size.

Rates will increase across the board, from the current $1.78 per thousand to $1.95 per thousand for the tier-one rate. The tier-two rate will be $2.75 per thousand gallons. Currently, the $1.78 rate per thousand applies no matter how much water is consumed. The rate is scheduled to increase to $1.83 per thousand on Oct. 1, under rates approved by the Town Board in 2020.

Also, customers will now pay for water in thousand-gallon increments for all usage. The quarterly minimum service charge — a flat fee based on the customer’s meter size — will no longer cover any water usage. Presently, a customer’s minimum service charge covers an initial amount used, up to 2,000 or 5,000 for most residential customers. After that, a per-thousand fee kicks in. The quarterly minimum service charge will not increase under Mancini’s proposal.

Meter SizeCurrent Cost per 1,000 galProposed Tier threshold (gal)Proposed Tier 1 rateProposed Tier 2 rateMinimum service chargeCurrent water included w/ mimum service charge (gal)Proposed water included w/ minumum service charge (gal)
5/8″$1.7890,000$1.95$2.75$112,0000.00
1″$1.7890,000$1.95$2.75$205,0000.00
1.5″$1.78290,000$1.95$2.75$153,0000.00
2″$1.78290,000$1.95$2.75$204,0000.00
3″$1.78290,000$1.95$2.75$246,0000.00
4″$1.781,800,000$1.95$2.75$308,0000.00
6″$1.782,300,000$1.95$2.75$4514,0000.00
8″$1.782,300,000$1.95$2.75$10545,0000.00
10″$1.782,300,000$1.95$2.75$12555,0000.00

Mancini also proposed increasing the out-of-district rate from $2.15 to $2.52 per 1,000 gallons.

Mancini presented an alternative to the board: a flat 13% increase from the current $1.78 per 1,000 gallons rate to $2.05 per 1,000 gallons.

“But that would hit the little guy more,” he said. “So I think we’ve got really large users, and they use a lot of water. That makes the most sense to charge them more money because they’re using the resource more.”

Mancini said the revenue from the rate bump is needed to cover the rising costs of chemicals for water treatment as well as new infrastructure. The prices of certain necessary chemicals have gone up 23% to 35%, Mancini said, requiring him to transfer 30% of his plant improvements budget line to his chemical and repair budget lines to cover the increased costs. He added that contract prices to develop new supply sites, which he said are needed to support anticipated development the town, have doubled since 2019.

Mancini said a tiered rate system is common on Long Island and is used by the Suffolk County Water Authority. Riverhead Water District rates would still be lower than the county water authority’s rates, after the new rate structure is in place, he said.

He urged the board to make the new structure take effect next year, to allow the water district to update its billing software and to allow customers time to “readjust their habits” before the change.

The town’s Environmental Advisory Committee sent a letter of support to the board for Mancini’s proposal.

“Just as we pay for the amounts of electricity, natural gas and gasoline that we use, so should water be assessed: but the difference here is that we are given an opportunity to directly influence the consumption of water by means of a tiered rate structure,” the letter states. “By increasing the burden of cost onto the heavier users of this finite resource we would hope to encourage conservation behaviors as a result.”

The committee recommends that the town go further to reward water conservation by creating a “tier zero” rate for consumers with below-average consumption levels. It also recommends that the district “devise a mechanism to reward those people in larger households who would not be able to achieve below-average consumption but achieve a consistent percentage of reduction in their household’s consumption over time.”

Board members were in support of the plan.

“I think this is really the best effort we can make with the least amount of impact on our regular rate payers. I think that that’s what we have to be sensitive to,” Councilman Frank Beyrodt said. But the rate increase is “a must” to make sure the district remains viable, he said. “The input costs in every business are going through the roof,” he said.

“So I think it’s something that’s a hard decision to say, yeah, let’s raise rates,” Beyrodt said. But the tiered system Mancini devised will minimize impacts to the smallest users, and “that that makes more sense than anything,” he said.

“At the end of the day, even after this increase, it’s still gonna be one of your cheapest utility rates,” Mancini said. “You get charged quarterly and you’re talking about a couple hundred dollars.” The tiered rate structure, tied to usage amounts, will help make people more aware of water consumption and encourage them to conserve water, Mancini said.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]