Hayden Town Council to discuss water rates

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What: Hayden Town Council meeting

When: 7:30 p.m. today

Where: Hayden Town Hall, 178 W. Jefferson Ave.

Call: 276-3741

— Water users in Hayden will pay more if the Hayden Town Council approves a base rate increase this month.

The council is scheduled to hear the first reading of an ordinance to raise rates at its meeting tonight. If council members move it to a second reading and approve it, residents would pay $3.05 more a month in their base rate, which is separate from the amount they pay for usage. Seniors would pay $1.83 more a month. That would put standard base rates at $19 a month and senior base rates at $11.40 a month, a 19 percent increase.

Hayden's enterprise fund pays for water and sewer with money it collects for the services. The fund is in the red because fewer new projects are coming on line and tapping in and because wet weather has cut water use, Town Manager Russ Martin said.

"This is one that's a partial answer," Martin said. "We may have to increase it again in the future, but we don't want to have a huge increase."

Even with a base rate increase, Martin said he expects the town to need to transfer $45,000 from the general fund to the enterprise fund in 2010. Council members are set to receive a draft budget proposal tonight.

The ordinance also would increase the cost of tapping into the systems. Plant investment fees, or tap fees for new buildings connecting to the system, would increase from $3,800 to $4,800 for water and from $1,900 to $2,400 for sewer.

The town still has to pay to keep the water and sewer plants running if water usage is down, Martin said. The town also is paying $115,000 a year on its debt for the water plant. The town has 12 more years on its 20-year loan. Martin said staff members looked at refinancing and found that it would increase costs.

Council member Bill Hayden said he thought the town should look at its water loss before increasing users' rates. Hayden has persistently raised the issue at Town Council meetings and said he hasn't been satisfied with the answers. The town could be losing as much as 29 percent of its water between the plant and consumers.

Those numbers could be a result of inaccurate meters at the water plant, Martin has said. Hunting for a leak could cost about $10,000, he said.

Hayden said he wanted to measure that against the money the town was losing on unpaid-for water.

"What happens is we're trying to buy a dozen eggs without knowing how much it costs," he said. "How much does it cost to produce, and what do we sell it for, and we can say how many dollars are we losing."

Council Member Jim Haskins said he was interested in hearing where the conversation goes tonight. He wasn't ready to comment on specific rate increases but did say the general fund shouldn't ultimately subsidize the sewer and water systems.

"I think the board is committed to seeing the enterprises fund themselves," Haskins said. "I think that's something we all want to see them do."

Without tap fees, the enterprise fund runs on about a $90,000 annual deficit, Martin has said. The town must find a way to cover that cost, he said.

That's part of the reason for a proposed sales tax increase on car rentals and lodging. In a pinch, that income could fill gaps.

"That's why things like the car rental tax are important is because we're having to take things from the general fund to keep the water and sewer running," Martin said.

If the Town Council approves the first reading of the water rate ordinance tonight, it will go to a public hearing Oct. 15.

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