BAR HARBOR, Maine — Local officials are asking for state approval to raise rates for water department customers.

Steven Levy, executive director of Maine Rural Water Association, told the Town Council this week that he recommends raising rates by 17.5 percent. Such an increase might seem like a lot, he said, but the new rates still could be considered low.

“Your water is relatively inexpensive compared to other utilities,” Levy told the council.

According to Stan Harmon, the town’s finance director, the proposed rate change would increase the average annual water bill for a local family from roughly $250 to nearly $300.

Harmon said Wednesday the increase would cover the cost of new meters for all of the department’s 1,800 customers. Of the 17.5 percent increase, 4.5 percent would be used to pay for the new meters and 13 percent would cover increases in operational expenses such as materials and labor, he said.

Jeff Van Trump, the water department superintendent, said Thursday the department already has started to replace some meters. Many throughout town are old and inaccurate and need to be replaced, he said. The department also plans eventually to have every meter outfitted with wireless radio transmitters, which will improve the accuracy of town records and greatly reduce the amount of time it takes department employees to take meter readings.

Van Trump said the requested rate increase is expected to cover the costs of replacing all customer meters and of acquiring and installing the wireless transmitters.

Harmon said that with the rate increase, the water department hopes to raise an additional $195,000.

The town also is considering a $1.1 million proposal to make improvements to its main pump station at Duck Brook, but none of those improvements would be paid for by the rate increase. Harmon said state law requires the town to get approval from the state Public Utilities Commission before it can raise rates, and that the PUC must approve how the town would spend the additional revenue.

The town cannot raise rates in anticipation of projects that have not been approved by the PUC, according to Harmon.

“We can’t raise rates for that stuff ahead of time,” he said.

Ron Hidu of the Bangor engineering firm Woodard & Curran said Wednesday that new federal testing standards are expected to result in necessary treatment upgrades at Bar Harbor’s pumping station. Some standards are expected to go into effect in January, but others will not for another five years, he said.

The town does not have to filter its water, he said, but beginning this winter it is expected to begin adding chloramides — a version of chlorine — in order to reduce byproducts that result from other steps of its treatment system. The town has a waiver for having to filter its water because Eagle Lake, which serves as the town’s reservoir and is surrounded by Acadia National Park, has fairly clean water.

Additional new standards scheduled to go into effect in 2014 are expected to require the town to add an ultraviolet light phase to its treatment system, according to Hidu. The $1.1 million upgrade would cover the cost of adding chloramides and ultraviolet light to the water treatment system.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....