RWA looking for new revenue streams

NORTH HAVEN >> Water usage is declining, so the Regional Water Authority is thinking outside the box in terms of revenue that doesn’t include raising rates.

“There has generally been declining consumption,” Beth Nesteriak, senior adviser to the president and director of business strategy at RWA, told the South Central Regional Council of Governments at its monthly meeting recently.

Over the past six years, consumption has declined about 1 percent year over year, she said, for several reasons: more efficient appliances, conservation and large businesses that have moved out of the area.

“We expect that trend to last, so we are looking at business efficiencies, doing things smaller, and generating revenue outside of the water structure,” she said.

The RWA wants to invest in businesses that fall outside of state regulations, she said.

“The RWA is allowed to conduct water-related activities,” said Lori Vitagliano, RWA’s government and public relations specialist.

If that were expanded to include other activities, such as investments in water-bottling operations, it could open up new revenue streams that could mitigate rate increases, she said.

Milford Mayor Benjamin G. Blake said he would like to see rates stay stable or decrease.

“My issue is always the rates,” he said. “We have all tightened our belts — all of us except the utility companies. The rates have increased every single year for the last five or six years.”

Blake said he appreciates the fact that RWA is looking for new revenue streams, but he was frustrated so see the “huge bonuses” given to top administrators despite the rate increases.

“Municipalities have all worked to save money, and I don’t think you have felt that pain,” he said.

“I, too, have Ben’s concerns,” Orange First Selectman James Zeoli said.

That town’s water assessment has risen from $135,000 to $500,000 in recent years, he said.

“At one time, the company was in poor financial shape, and the reason we have seen such an increase is because they had to bring that up.

“They have really had to pull themselves up out of a hole, and they have actually come a long way and are now on solid ground.”

The RWA has made $10 million in budget cuts since 2009, Nesteriak said, and now is working with the General Assembly to change state statutes to allow an investigation into alternate investment opportunities that could increase revenue without hurting customers.

Investments have to be in areas related to water and the environment, she said.

“We need a change in the laws to even look into that,” Vitagliano said about expanding that limitation.

To that end, state Sen. George S. Logan, R-17, has introduced “An Act Authorizing the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority to Conduct and Invest In Certain Non-core Business Activities.”

The purpose of the bill is “that the general statutes be amended to authorize the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority to conduct or invest in non-core business activities such as agriculture and energy.”

The company has a small reserve of funds set aside for new investments, Nesteriak said, and could also bond the money so it wouldn’t result in rate increases.