Burlington, VT aligns goals to build community acceptance

Two years ago, the City of Burlington, VT Water Resources Division decided to use their rate study as a way to achieve the City’s goals of equity and affordability while enhancing the customer experience by listening to what their customers had to say. Obtaining the right amount of revenue to fund the Division’s water, wastewater and stormwater services was part of the equation, but so were these non-traditional rate study goals. With Raftelis’ assistance, the City has just completed what they call their “Kitchen Sink” rate study. The valuable lessons they learned can help other utilities align the goals of their rate study with the broader goals of their organizations.

The City’s comprehensive effort began with a discussion about how to ensure that the Division’s water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities had sustainable funding to maintain and enhance its level of service while promoting equity and affordability. What transpired was financial planning, rate design, detailed customer impact analyses, new fee development, significant stakeholder outreach, and customer assistance program development—all while dealing with a global pandemic.

Ultimately, the Division proposed increases to revenue from all enterprise funds, significant changes to its water and sewer rate structures, new revenue sources such as private fire protection charges, and a comprehensive customer assistance program known as WRAP (Water Resources Assistance Program). The Division’s final proposal was designed to provide equitable costs based on user demand characteristics, and expanded and enhanced affordability programs for users, while allowing its robust operations and continued long-term capital improvements to flourish. Over the course of this project, the Division’s proposal was endorsed by the City’s DPW Commission, Transportation, Utility & Energy Commission, the Board of Finance and ultimately the entire City Council.