Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Hailey plans to raise water, sewer rates

City says necessary plans, upgrades will cost millions

Express Staff Writer

    Hailey residents might not see water or sewer rates go up this month, but city planners say more revenue is needed to fund engineering studies and higher rates might encourage water conservation.
    Public Works Director Tom Hellen said during a City Council meeting on Monday that he proposes to raise Hailey sewer rates by an average of $13 a month for an average household that uses 6,000 gallons monthly. Those rates would decrease in October 2013, when the new fiscal year starts.
    City Administrator Heather Dawson said the average user currently pays $43.66 per month in sewer fees. Under the new fee schedule, users would pay an average of $56.72 per month until October, when rates would drop to $52.33 per month.
    Dawson estimated that if a $4 million bond is approved for a new wastewater plant in May 2014, rates for fiscal year 2015 would rise to an average of $52.76 per user. Dawson added that the cost of engineering studies for the new biosolids plant—an estimated $200,000—could be rolled into the cost of a bond, but that would cause sewer rates to experience a steeper increase if the bond was approved.
    This way, she said, rates would increase but then remain relatively stable.
    The city of Hailey has contemplated a bond election of between $3.5 and $5 million to pay for a new wastewater plant in Woodside.
    The city has paid $69,000 so far to HDR Engineering in Boise to provide a cost estimate for demolition of a fiberglass dome at the existing Woodside treatment plant and construction of an upgraded replacement building.
    But the firm has suggested conducting more studies before a bond election is held, in order to get a more detailed design and better cost estimate for a new facility and equipment.

“When we did the water meters, how many trees died because people just stopped watering?”
Geoffrey Moore
Hailey resident

    A 60-percent-accurate estimate could be available by November 2013 for a total consulting cost of $270,000. Hellen said a more accurate estimate could allow the city to bond for a lower amount.
    Water rates are also set to rise, mostly—according to Hellen—because the city needs to conduct a water master plan, prepare for conjunctive management of all water rights and encourage water conservation. Water rates would rise an estimated 29 percent.
    Hellen said that water use initially dropped in July 2010 when meters were installed, but have crept back up.
    However, some residents believe that using water rates as a means of encouraging conservation could have unintended consequences. City resident Geoffrey Moore said people might simply quit watering trees and lawns if rates are too high.
    “When we did the water meters, how many trees died because people just stopped watering?” he said.
    Councilman Don Keirn said he ran into a similar problem in California, where water users conserved water so much because of high rates that water rates had to be boosted higher and higher to make up for lost revenue.
    “You are walking a fine line,” he said.
    Hailey Sustainability Coordinator Mariel Platt suggested that other methods, such as replacing grass with plants that demand less water, replacing inefficient sprinkler heads and installing moisture sensors were other options for lowering excess water use.
    The discussion on rates was continued until the council’s next meeting on Monday, May 20, at 5:30 p.m. at Hailey City Hall.

Kate Wutz:

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