Friday, August 30, 2013

Hailey mulls hikes in water rates

Low consumers and summer irrigators targeted

Express Staff Writer

The city of Hailey is considering raising rates for water consumption.

    The cost of water in Hailey may increase on Oct. 1, as it does each year. But who gets charged more will likely depend on the outcome of discussions on possible water-rate structure changes.
    Further discussion will take place on Sept. 16 at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall.
    On Monday, the City Council discussed changes  that could lead to higher rates for consumers that use less water as well as higher rates for all water consumers in the summer.
    “Water is a precious commodity. The more you use, the more you should pay for it,” said Mayor Fritz Haemmerle.


"Water is a precious commodity. The more you use, the more you should pay for it.”
Fritz Haemmerle
Hailey Mayor

    The base consumer rate for water is $8.32 per month for use of up to 30,000 gallons plus a charge of 25 cents for every one thousand gallons consumed over 30,000 gallons.
    The city has budgeted $1,105,301 for its water delivery system in fiscal year 2014, which begins Oct. 1.
    Sustainability Director Mariel Platt presented several options for fee-structure changes that would meet the budget and provide an additional 16 percent to 21.5 percent in surplus revenue.
    Seventy-three percent of water consumed in the city is used for irrigation during summer months, said Platt. While some residents with large lots use much more than the average homeowner, 80 percent of residential ratepayers use less than 30,000 gallons per month.
    Sixty-eight percent of all city ratepayers, including commercial consumers, use less than 30,000 gallons a month.
    Platt recommended separating ratepayers who consume less than 30,000 gallons per month into three tiers, and charging them more than the current 25-cent per 1,000-gallons rate.
Councilman Don Keirn agreed with the proposal.
“You can’t even cover the cost of delivery for 25 cents,” Keirn said.
Under the proposed change, those using zero to 10,000 gallons per month would be charged 35 cents per 1,000 gallons. Those using between 11,000 and 20,000 gallons would pay 50 cents per 1,000 gallons, and those using between 21,000 and 30,000 gallons would be charged 75 cents per 1,000 gallons.
    Platt also recommended establishing a “seasonal rate” that would increase water costs across the board during summer months when irrigators consume far more.
    Platt said conservation efforts, including the installation of water meters in 2006, led to decreases in water consumption in the city between five percent and 20 percent. However, if water consumption is reduced too dramatically, there will not be enough revenue to support the city’s water delivery system.
    “When rates go up, behavior changes, but rates have to be set to ensure that the city does not go into the red,” she said.
    Platt also recommended an educational campaign that could include workshops about increasing uniformity in sprinkler watering patterns, installing drip irrigation and moisture sensors, and planting drought-tolerant grasses.
    She said ratepayers could also be offered “water audits” to determine what steps they could take to further conserve water, similar to the audits her department now offers that measure energy-use.
    The 2014 Hailey water budget includes money for engineering to prepare for state-mandated conjunctive watershed management, which Haemmerle said will soon make Hailey’s municipal wells vulnerable to curtailment by large-scale irrigators in the Magic Valley that hold water rights that are senior to Hailey’s.
“If there is a water call, the city could lose its irrigation rights, because the senior rights we hold for irrigation are not enough,” Haemmerle said.
Hailey resident and Planning and Zoning Commissioner Geoffrey Moore said the threat of curtailment is “pure speculation.” He said any revenue gained from increased rates, should be kept in a separate account.
    “If curtailment never comes, the city should give the money back,” Moore said.

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