“As locally elected officials, we have a duty to act in a fiscally responsible manner,” Sanchez said in a letter to Stewart. “This includes ensuring that our constituents do not incur unnecessary costs via taxes/fees. As city leaders, we should first look within before financially burdening our residents, regardless of the amount.”
Stewart, who promised that she would not increase taxes this year, has defended her plan to increase water rates by 5%. Stewart’s budget plan also increases sewer rates, paid on same bill as water fees, by 9.3%. Stewart’s budget proposals would bring increases in water and sewer charges under her administration up by $3,965,297 since the 2014 budget year.
Stewart has cited ongoing water infrastructure projects, decreasing revenues and that water rates have not increased recently as reasons for her water rate increase. Citing these factors, she dismissed Sanchez’s message, saying, to Sanchez, “If you need a refresher on that I am sure the council secretary would be able to provide it to you.”
Sanchez said that, “There is currently a proposal to increase water rates to tax payers by 5%, which represents an estimated $535,000 in new revenues to the city.”
A City Council resolution approved in April says that, “the City of New Britain has experienced a water shortage which required the City to purchase raw water from the Metropolitan District Commission at a cost of approximately $400,000.”
That passage was from the resolution approved after Stewart and the Council’s Republican majority withdrew their plan to sell off New Britain’s 1.2 million gallon per day potential Patton Brook drinking water well, amid a cloud of scandal, after it was exposed that the city, under Stewart, did not inform the public about a severe water shortage known to city officials for nearly a year, a year during which Stewart and Republicans pressed for and approved the controversial well sale. Stewart has been widely criticized for waiting until late autumn to make an announcement asking “residents to take voluntary water conservation measures, such as limiting the watering of things like lawns, gardens, driveways, and sidewalks,” measures could have only worked to prevent the water shortage if such a request was made in the summer.
The delayed announcement by Stewart is widely believed to have exacerbated New Britain’s water shortage to such severe levels that the city was forced to take the step, without recent precedent, of having to purchase water from the Hartford-area water authority, known as the Metropolitan District Commission.
Sanchez’s message to Stewart focused on preventing the fee increases in order to avoid “financially burdening our residents.”
“I strongly suggest we re-examine the budget,” said Sanchez, “and re-allocate as necessary to protect our citizens from additional cost.”
Stewart has called a special meeting of the Council, on June 6th at 6:30pm in City Hall, to approve her proposed budget.