Brookfield WPCA Budget Narrative – FY2021-22

Introduction:

It is useful to offer a narrative to accompany the budget to tell the story behind the numbers. There is much more on the activity of the WPCA at the brookfieldwpca.org website.

Operations Staff and Building

The WPCA has full responsibility for its own finances as a stand-alone Enterprise Fund of the Town of Brookfield. The duties for the volunteer board have increased substantially over the past several years with system growth. In 2018 a new part-time director position was added to deal with increasing complexities. With the recent loss of customers and improvements in operational efficiencies, one full-time field staff position was eliminated.

In 2018 the commission occupied an operations center at 53A Commerce Road. The two-story building includes 2500 sqft of office space, a storage mezzanine and 500 sqft of unfinished area. This allows all employees to be co-located. The office building is financed with a 25-year conventional mortgage.

The Commission:

The commission has seven volunteer members. Most have served for several years. There is currently one opening on the WPCA board.

As to outside services, the commission uses engineering, accounting, billing, legal, technology and other support services as needed. The engineering firm has quite a bit of depth, serving several states. Their work includes maintaining and upgrading the sewer layer on the town GIS (Geographical Information System). The commission attorney has served the Brookfield WPCA for nearly 30 years providing expertise in a myriad of legal and land use issues. He also has a valuable depth of corporate memory. The accounting firm, Bliss Allred and Company, has served the WPCA for 6 years. The WPCA accounting system routinely has been complimented by Town auditors.

Accommodating Growth:

Several important sewer system improvement projects were undertaken recently. These included repair of lines in the industrial area at Commerce Road, a gravity main upgrade at the crest of Federal Road at the intersection of Old New Milford Road, flow meters at Cedarbrook, Stony Hill and Caldor pump stations, valving repairs for safety along Federal Road, improvements in station electronic monitoring and constant upgrading of the GIS system, making field service more efficient.

The Route 133 Pump Station is undergoing a significant upgrade to handle growth in the Town Center District. The upgrade will include a large tank to reduce pump cycling, a new backup generator and other upgrades to accommodate new more efficient pumps in 2022.

New Initiatives

There were two Clean Water Fund (CWF) grants awarded in May 2019.
1) Facilities Plan took an extensive look at current operations and examined costs 5 and 10 years in the future to 2030. This planning study is required by State Statute. It was a $300,000 program with 55% grant monies being returned. The Facilities Plan is completed spring 2020 and is available online at https://brookfieldwpca.org/plan
2) Candlewood Lake Studies. This involved a study of the influence of septic discharges on the lake and the well water supply on or near the Candlewood Peninsula. The study captured the current situation and proposes ways to reduce E-coli, phosphorus, nitrogen and PFAS contamination. This $320,000 study was also subject to a 55% CWF grant from the CT DEEP. Details of the investigation can be seen online at https://brookfieldwpca.org/candlewood

Two other study initiatives without grants were also completed last year.
3) Dean and Pocono Roads. This involved a study of the viability of capturing septic system outfall for ninety 1950-era homes along the Still River. This study was completed in cooperation with the Housatonic Valley Association with a specific focus on the Still River watershed to reduce E-coli and nutrient contamination. It was completed June 2020 and is available online at https://brookfieldwpca.org/dean
4) Brookfield Market Area. Various approaches to installing sewer service in the have been investigated to achieve the lowest cost alternatives in this historical area. Permission has been granted by the State to cross over the Route 25 bridge under the pavement. This sewer extension would service only 13 properties near the Still River with challenged septic systems. A final design is slated to be presented to affected property owners Spring of 2021. See https://brookfieldwpca.org/market

The WPCA Enterprise

The WPCA Enterprise Fund accounting is fully separated from the Town and on a full accrual accounting basis. The WPCA is included as a fiscally independent business activity in the Town audit. This arrangement has been in place since 2010 at the request of the Office of the Controller and Auditors in keeping with government Enterprise Fund accounting rules. This is different from Town accounting using Revenue Fund rules.

The sewer usage fee was set in June 2012 at $380 per unit per year to fully cover increasing depreciation and Danbury treatment fees. (A household is one unit.) The usage fee increased to $420 per unit June 2017. This jump amounted to about 2% annual increase over the previous 5-year span. This rate allowed sustainable operations including the ability to make minor infrastructure upgrades to accommodate the upkeep and growth in system use.

With another two sewer districts benefit assessments ceasing because debt has been retired, infrastructure costs must now be fully funded by user rates. The Facilities Plan outlines future cash needs for upgrades that must be financed. With cash on hand and no rate change, it is predicted that the capital reserve fund will be exhausted in the year 2024. Following the recommendations of the Facilities Plan, capital needs are projected at $3.7 million for the next 8 years. But it is not needed all at once. Consequently, a staged increase of $20 per unit per year is recommended from the beginning if FY 2022 through FY 2025 to cover the cost of operations and collection system capital requirements.

The other alternative to funding needed upgrades would be to levy a special assessment on users. Other towns have done that, but this has never been done in Brookfield. The opinion of the Commission is that a special assessment would reflect lack of planning. It is also complicated and costly to manage.

Cost of Operations by Flow:

For the last 3-years there were 3600 units producing approximately 320,000 gallons per day (0.32MGD). Last year there were few new customers to offset a loss of revenue from lost businesses, mostly in the Town Center. The largest decline in chargeable units is due to the closure of the Siemens operation. This with other closures, temporary and permanent, puts a strain on the budget with rising operations costs.

All sanitary wastewater flow is sent to the Regional Danbury Waste Treatment plant under the supervision of the CT DEEP and by an InterLocal agreement with Danbury. The agreement allows a flow from Brookfield of up to 500,000 gallons per day. But this is slated to be increased to 550,000 gallons per day in 2022 by agreement with the former Danbury Mayor. There will be new Phosphorous mitigation requirements imposed on the Danbury Waste Treatment Plant. The Danbury Plant expansion will cost Brookfield a projected $4,000,000. This upgrade does not qualify for grants. The cost should qualify for 20-year loans by the state at 2% interest, but could alternately be financed by a bond.

For the WPCA to cover the Brookfield engineering cost share of the Danbury plant upgrade, an additional $34 per use unit per year was collected as a “Plant Charge” to partially generate the needed funds. This fee will increase modestly to $40 per unit per year starting in June 2021. These funds are isolated in a separate account to partially cover the approximately $4 million additional for the Brookfield portion of the Danbury Plant expansion slated to be operational in 2022.

Rate Structure:

Customer sewer rates are based on a “Unit” charge to fund operations one option provided for by State Statute. Each household is one unit. Commercial establishments all have a formula to determine the usage rate according to WPCA Rules and Regulations. The Commission has explored charging by water usage for commercial customers. This strategy will require commercial customers to install a water meter which is cumbersome and costly to implement. Only a small fraction of commercial customers are on city water.

Covid-19 Impact:

It remains difficult to predict the impact of the health emergency. The news and outlook changes by the day. A number of restaurants were closed for a period of time and many remain at reduced levels. The one motel in Brookfield has closed down. The loss of revenue is still impossible to predict in the year(s) ahead. The schools and many businesses are also a big revenue contributor. They have been at reduced operation levels but are still contributing flow.

Overall, the wastewater flows have not decreased during the pandemic. That means costs have remained unchanged in spite of the economic slowdown.

Rate Setting:

Two rate increases were implemented in June 2017. One a permanent increase for operations of $40 per unit, from $380 to $420 per unit. So, the current annual rate is $454 per unit with the $34/year Plant Charge. Projected staged increases of $20 per unit per year will sustain the operations as required. Brookfield rates will still be below the average CT state sewer charge. See the full 2019 Connecticut Sewer Rate Survey report.

Budget Summary:

The operating budget in a simple form can be divided into five categories. See the table below. The Administration category includes outside legal, accounting and audit costs.

In round figures, the Brookfield WPCA has assets of $25 million. The WPCA holds $5 million in bonds and loans against 6 discrete sewer districts. This requires a total of $500,000 in debt service, principal and interest, funded by users in each sewer district. Funds to pay each bond note or to make upgrades within each sewer district are kept separate and restricted bank accounts as required by Resolution. User obligations are attached to land records, virtually assuring collection.

WPCA Budgeted Expenses FY 2021-2022

Cost Element

Cost in $, 000s

Percent of Total

Danbury Fees

$360

19 %

Plant Charge

$167

9 %

Employee Costs

$639

34 %

Operations

$295

16 %

Administration

$160

9 %

Contribution to Capital

$245

13 %

Total

$1,866

100%

Narrative Summary

As with any utility the operation must be competent for
• To keep the business running, providing value for a good cost, below benchmarks
• Invest in current technology to drive down unit cost to scale well
• Delivery of quality, competent, trouble-free service in its operations, and
• Have friendly and patient customer relations.

Also, high values for the Commission are
• Fulfill its mission to avoid and reduce pollution from the Town of Brookfield into the surrounding waterways.
• Transparency. Brookfield has the most complete website of any WPCA in CT.
• Integrity. All decisions are open to the public and finances pass intrinsic and extrinsic audits.
• Financial Sustainability.
• Excellence in bringing the latest technologies to make the operations cost efficient. For example, wireless tablets with real-time information allow the field staff to view customer connections and all other system features on-the-spot. This GIS service allows instant recording of observations with pictures giving an electronic record of on-going and required inspections.

The WPCA Commission has given focus to its employees and continues to give this area focus—a challenge for a volunteer board. A goal is to conduct this enterprise so as to reflect positively on the WPCA and Brookfield.

Download Budgets as PDF:

 FULL 2016-17 BUDGET

 FULL 2017-18 BUDGET

 FULL 2018-19 BUDGET

 FULL 2019-20 BUDGET

 FULL 2020-21 BUDGET

 FULL 2021-22 BUDGET