Hayden battles 29 percent water losses | CraigDailyPress.com

Hayden battles 29 percent water losses

Hayden manager: Utility rates probably will increase to cover money shortfalls

Blythe Terrell
Hayden officials think the town is losing about 29 percent of the water it produces each year. Hayden Town Council members discussed the problem at their meeting Thursday, and Town Manager Russ Martin expects water rates to increase in order to cover the funding shortfalls.
Courtesy Photo

— On paper, it appears Hayden is losing about 29 percent of the water it produces each year.

According to numbers from 2005 through 2008, the town is producing more water than residents are paying for. Hayden Town Council members discussed the problem at their meeting Thursday, as well as issues related to money shortfalls in the town’s sewer and water fund. They couldn’t come up with clear answers.

Town Manager Russ Martin said Friday that he expected the town to increase water rates to combat the cash shortfall.

Scott Price, the town’s water/wastewater plant operator, provided graphs and figures relating to the possible water losses at the Thursday meeting. His research showed that there doesn’t appear to be a seasonal variation or a change in loss between high- and low-use periods.

“There’s a lot of variables in there, and that’s kind of why we’ve got to look at the averages,” Price said.

The typical municipality experiences 16 percent water loss, Price said, suggesting that Hayden shoot for 10 percent.

Town Council members were concerned about losing money. They questioned whether people were using water and not paying. Some of the water loss, Price said, could come from people with broken meters.

It’s a challenge for Hayden to contract with plumbers to fix difficult-to-reach meters, and it costs money. Price said he and other plant workers weren’t comfortable fixing or replacing meters and that households with broken meters pay the rate of an average water user in town.

Price suggested requiring those users to replace their meters or face consequences.

“I think we should issue a policy where we say if you do not make an appointment within the next week to fix your meter, we’re going to turn your water off,” Price said.

Council Member Jim Haskins supported that, suggesting that the council could make door hangers saying as much.

Customers often aren’t eager to get their meters fixed, Council Member Tim Redmond said. Redmond, a mechanical contractor who does plumbing work, has contracted with the town and worked with Streets Superintendent Sam Barnes to get to customers.

“There were a couple situations where Sam had to get a little forceful with people to get me access, which is frustrating,” Redmond said.

Tightening the rules is an option, Town Manager Russ Martin said, but he thinks the solution to the water loss question is more complicated. The meter for water leaving the town’s plant could be inaccurate, Martin said. It’s measuring a lot of water moving quickly.

The water loss could just appear on paper.

“I think we’re at a loss as to which way to go,” he said. “We can spend a few thousand recalibrating some meters and maybe doing some leak detection.”

The town would have to find that money somewhere, however. Hayden already has cut its budget, and the enterprise fund, which pays for the water and sewer systems, is expected to be short by half a million dollars. Tap fees are down because construction is down, and the rain this summer meant people were using – and paying for – less town water.

Hayden already has had to use its reserves, which also are about half a million, to cover costs in the enterprise fund, Martin said.

“That’s about a six-month reserve, and any community would be pleased to have that much reserve on hand,” he said. “Our problem is that the water fund has taken that until a point where we cannot operate the general fund, or at least do it as well as we have in the past, from a cash flow standpoint.”

Rate debate

Hayden is trying to refinance its debt on the water plant it built in 2003-04. So far, Martin and his staff members haven’t negotiated a better deal on interest rates. If they can’t do so, the town might take out a line of credit to pay bills and improve cash flow.

That would be a temporary solution, Martin said.

“It’s actually not a bad situation; it’s just like any business trying to figure out how you get through a period of time,” he said. “Because the water fund is a business, and right now it’s not making enough money to cover its bills, and that’s not a good thing.”

Hayden town officials are working with bankers to figure out the next step for the enterprise fund. Martin said Town Council members probably would consider rate increases in coming months. The town can specify whose rates increase, leaving out senior citizens, for example, he said.

“With the economy generally suffering, I think it’s a tough time to do that,” Martin said. “The board’s sensitive to that, trying to do the right thing for the fund and knowing it’s going to turn around at some point.”

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