Part II-A: How to pay for fire hydrants?

The Approach Of The Norwich Fire District

How to pay for fire hydrants? This is Part II of a series of posts examining the hydrant rental cost structure in place in Norwich. Part I looked at the approach of water companies in general.  Part II discusses the approach of the Norwich Fire District specifically. I needed to break Part II, into A and B, to report in B information provided by the Fire District regarding how the Town benefits. 

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As observed in Part I, “hydrant rental” is a short hand expression to cover the costs of the ENTIRE infrastructure to deliver to provide the high flows and pressures needed to fight fires. “Fire protection charge” might be a better term than hydrant rental. “The hydrants are simply the visible portion of the entire infrastructure needed to provide fire protection to the entire town,” said Prudential Committee member Barbara Currier in an email. 

The Norwich Fire District uses a two-step approach in calculating the Town’s share of the fire protection charge. First, it allocates 30% of its budget to the aggregate cost related to the hydrant infrastructure.

In support, the District references an article published in 1967 in the Journal of the American Water Works Association [see citation and link below], which states, without analysis, that that fire protection facilities “can represent from 20-75 per cent of the cost of a water system, the percentage being inverse to the size of the population.” Thirty per cent is a “very conservative percentage,” according to Ms. Currier. 

Second, the Fire District allocates 20% of that 30% to the Town under “a longstanding agreement” between the Town and the Fire District, according to the draft meeting minutes of the Prudential Committee from December 18, 2017. 

However, that agreement, which I have not seen, may not set a percentage. As best as I can discern from a 2005 letter from the Fire District to the Town Manage, the percentage was not set in the agreement.  Rather, it is a projection based on the initial understanding to pay $6,000 when the Fire District “gave the Fire Department to the Town in 1988.” Obviously, seeing the actual agreement would end the need to discern meaning. 

In effect, the Fire District pays for 80% of the fire protection charge or hydrant rental, with the Town picking up the remainder.  For calendar year 2018, the Fire District anticipates the Town’s 20% share to be $18,057 [plus metered water use]  based on an estimated 2018 Fire District budget of $300,960. During this fiscal year for the Town, it paid $11,700 for hydrant rental and budgeted metered water use at $1176.
J.B. Wilson, “Hydrant Rental Charges”, Journal of the American Water Works Association, Vol. 59, No.1 (January 1967), pp. 29-31.
Fire District Meeting Minutes_DRAFT_2017-12-08.pdf
Letter from Brion McMullan, District Administrator to Steve Soares, Norwich Town Manager dated 1/5/05.


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