Rocky Hill Residents Hit with High Water Utility Bills
By Rikki N. Massand | Posted October 19, 2022
Following the splash of cold water Rocky Hill residents felt once they opened their water utility bills, Mayor Bob Uhrik told The Montgomery News that water the billing process will be reevaluated and the borough may need to make substantive changes. Council President Trey Delaney will spearhead this effort, in consultation with CFO Cameron Keng and Water & Sewer Department Superintendent Brian Fusco.
Mayor Uhrik explained, “The issue that needs to be addressed is that sewer charges are based on customers’ water usage. If a resident uses a few thousand gallons of water in a quarter to water their lawn or garden, they are then paying the higher rate sewer charges for that – in addition to the water usage charge.”
For example, one resident complained that he received a $783 water bill for the 90-day period. The resident's normal bill is about $500.
A model of the old Rocky Hill water tower in the Pate family's Washington Street basement as part of a model railroad display.
Immediately after council’s October 17 meeting the mayor reviewed Fusco’s reports on well water flows (water usage) in the borough during the last several months, including this summer’s noted heat wave and drought conditions.
For an average month, Rocky Hill residents use approximately 2.2 to 2.4 million gallons of water. Water use creeped up during May and June of this year to 2.26 and 2.25 million gallons. In July the total climbed up to 2.44 million gallons, and peaked during the August heatwave and drought to 2.63 million gallons. In September, Rocky Hill water consumption remained high, at 2.55 million gallons.
You'll understand the data better if you can visualize how much a million gallons of water is. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, "a good-sized bathtub holds 40 gallons, so a million gallons would be 25,000 baths. But, it might be easier to take a look at a swimming pool."
"If you were a swimming-pool builder and a customer asked you to build a pool that would hold a million-gallons, then they had better have a big yard. You would need to build a pool about 267 feet long (almost as long as a football field), 50 feet wide, and 10 feet deep."
Rocky Hill water bills, mailed in October, included the summer drought period. Water meter readings were take on or about June 20 and September 20 for the recent 90-day billing period, which led many residents to vocalize their concerns to council.
Borough Clerk to Continue in Position through December
Longtime Rocky Hill Municipal Clerk Rebecca Newman was set to complete her service in the borough on Friday, October 14. Council was set to hire Montgomery Township Public Information Officer Tammy Garaffa for the part-time position, however, she declined the job offer. Mayor Uhrik announced in mid-October that Newman will be staying on as clerk through December 31, though the borough will be searching for a replacement.
Garaffa is a registered municipal clerk, but as terms of her appointment for Rocky Hill, she also would have needed to obtain certification as a municipal registrar. On October 3, she was confirmed for the clerk position with an unanimous vote of council formalizing a three-year-term and a $30,000 per year salary. The appointment had to be rescinded at the October 17 meeting.
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The $30,000 figure is what Newman received upon the borough’s new appointment of the role early in the year, after she was initially planning to step down at the end of January. The rate is the highest Rocky Hill has ever paid for its part-time clerk position, and the municipality continues to have the staff services of resident Christine Witt as deputy clerk as well as planning board secretary.
Borough Hall Preservation
Council member Susan Bristol, chairperson of the borough’s Buildings and Grounds Committee, noted that on September 20 she met with Somerset County Supervising Planner and Historic Sites Coordinator Thomas D’Amico at borough hall to discuss the preservation grant projects that have taken place there with generous grant funding from the county. She explained that Somerset County currently owes the borough $50,000 in historic preservation grant reimbursements. She added that paperwork has been gathered for the funds to be repaid, thanks to the efforts of Deputy Clerk Witt.
Bristol’s next concentrated effort for borough hall is the safe reopening and resumption, after almost three years, of in-person council meetings. She’s asked staff and borough professionals, including the municipal attorney, if COVID-19 relief/federal government (American Rescue Plan) grant funds can be used to purchase a new HVAC unit for the borough hall council chamber.