Friday, May 25, 2007

Hailey weighs water billing options

Council seeks to charge for actual use, not potential


By JON DUVAL
Express Staff Writer

Hailey water users could see changes in their water bills in the near future.

At a meeting on Monday, May 21, the Hailey City Council listened to City Engineer Tom Hellen explain three options for a new method of calculating the cost of water. No decision was made on the issue, however, and the council decided to continue it to a special meeting June 4 to hear more public opinion.

The impetus for the discussion was prompted by a complaint from resident Eric Alberdi about the soaring cost of his water bill during a meeting in April.

Currently, residents are charged not only for the amount of water they use, but also for their capacity. For example, a single-family home with a three-quarter-inch connection to the water system pays a lower rate than a condominium complex with a two-inch connection.

When metered water billing was introduced last year, the thinking was that the larger pipe required more infrastructure than the smaller pipes, and, therefore, should be billed at a higher rate.

At the April meeting, however, the City Council was clearly uncomfortable with that formula and asked Hellen to look into alternatives.

The first option Hellen discussed at Monday's meeting centered on removal of the "multiplier," the factor by which each connection size affects the user's cost. Without the multiplier, users are charged only a base rate plus the cost of the amount of water they consume. Though that appears fair, Hellen pointed out, it will leave the city approximately $150,000 short in its water budget.

The second option was to lower the multiplier in order to lower the monthly bill of users with larger connections. Similar to the removal of the multiplier, though, that method would still leave the city with a deficit.

The most palatable option for the council was one in which rates would increase when a user's consumption went above a certain level. Mayor Susan McBryant said that having a number of acceleration fees, starting at 50,000 gallons and increasing exponentially every 10,000 gallons thereafter, could prompt water conservation.

Compounding the financial effects on the city is the fact that rates for wastewater are already low, said Finance and Information Director Heather Dawson. For the city to reduce water bills, it will also have to adjust wastewater costs in order to prevent a loss of revenue, she said.




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