Most mountain (Lincoln Peak, not Mt. Ellen) condominiums are served by Sugarbush Utilities for purposes of water and wastewater. Many of the single family homes in Sugarbush Village are also served by the utility. Billing for these services is on a quarterly basis.
There are two elements to the billing. The first is for so-called “base” charges. As with most public utilities, the base charges are fixed and cover expenses related to the infrastructure and maintenance of the systems. Base charges are for water, sewer, and roads, and they are billed in advance. So, when a quarterly bill is paid, the payment is prospective for the next three months. Accordingly, at closing, the Buyer will typically owe the Seller for some portion of the current quarter that has been paid in advance and the base charges are pro-rated accordingly.
The second Sugarbush Utilities billing element is for use charges which (as you might imagine) are based upon the amount of utility services actually used by the homeowner during the previous quarter. Use charges are billed in arrears. The meters are read (some condominiums are individually metered, others, Snow Creek for example, are metered by the building and then divided by the number of units) and the bill calculated by multiplying number of gallons used, rounded to 1000 gallon increments, by the current billing price. Because the use charges are billed in arrears, the Seller will typically owe the Buyer for a pro-rated amount of use charges at closing. The Buyer then becomes responsible for the entire amount of the next utility bill when it arrives (because the base charges are paid in advance, and because the use charges were already pro-rated at closing and the Seller’s portion of the use charges were credited to the Buyer at that time).
Meters are not read at the time of each individual property transfer. As a result, the use charges are pro-rated based upon the most recent previous quarterly billing. While this is usually a reasonably fair method of allocating the respective shares of the bill, that is not always the case. If, for example, a closing occurs in late March, it is likely that the previous quarterly use billing, which may have been for October, November, and December, will be fairly low given the traditional low occupancy during that period of time (most owners are not appreciating the beauty of Vermont in its cold, cloudy, dark and bare ground state). When the next use bill arrives, however, say a week after closing, it covers use for January, February and March, which is typically a period of heavy unit use by owners, family, friends, renters. The new owner will then normally call his or her attorney to say that the bill is being sent to the attorney because “…this must be the Seller’s bill, I hardly used the unit at all, I can’t possibly owe this much.”
Unfortunately for the Buyer, given the billing and meter reading system, the entire bill is, in fact, the responsibility of the Buyer.
We know of no way to more fairly address this potential billing unfairness unless and until the utility company is willing to read meters individually at the time of each conveyance which, so far (meaning for the last 30 or more years), they have not been in a position to do.
So, as with the property taxes, the utility billing process take a bit of getting used to.