Bethel city council begins process of raising water and sewer rates

by Ben Matheson on December 11, 2013

The Bethel City council has taken the first step towards boosting water and sewer rates. A memorandum passed last night that directs city staff to draft ordinances that raise rates up to cover their costs. This is just the start of the process, the council will take another look at the rate adjustments before finalizing any changes.

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Piped water customers would see the biggest hikes as the city moves to cost of service rates right away. The numbers Mayor Joe Klejka highlighted from a study, shows that their total bill would go from approximately 159 dollars to 263 a month. 68 percent raise on water and a 55 percent jump on piped sewage.

Hauled water customers would see much smaller increases, possibly in the range of 4 to 8 percent over the coming years, according to Mayor Klejka. Hauled water customers would pay more, depending on where they live. The more expensive zone two would be Larsen, Tundra Ridge, Kasayuli and customers near the airport.

“Again, all the cost is in delivery system, it’s a if you have to have water delivery to your house several times a week. If you have large tanks, it’s diminished considerably,” said Klejka.

Vice Mayor Rick Robb wanted to expand the scope of the memorandum and explore the option of turning over water and sewer service to a contractor.

“Is there a company that could feasibly operate this privately, make a reasonable profit and operate it for a lower cost. That’s something the council and or administration should look at,” said Robb.

Robb put forth an amendment that would include a look at private operations. It would also ask for an analysis on the possibility of offsetting the rate increases with a corresponding drop in the city sales tax. The amendment got the votes of Robb and Heather Pike but failed.

Councilmembers addressed the fact that many residents would prefer to have their water metered and only pay for what they use. The current system does not have the incentive to conserve water. Councilman Leif Albertson says it will be tricky to find a solution that works for everyone.

“Based on the situation we have , whereas people are charged differently for different things, it’ very hard to do this in a way that seems fair to everyone, so I think public comment is really important,” said Albertson.

The big push for water rates revolves around the troubled sewage lagoon. The city cannot access grant funds until it recovers water and sewer costs through the rates. The full rate study is available here.

In other action, the council supported two resolutions related to ports and harbors. One asks for funding for statewide port and harbor repairs. The second would create committee to work on a statewide database of derelict vessels. The council did not pass a resolution that would have required mandatory sentences for people convicted of assaulting harbor employees.

It also passed a resolution asking the Department of Corrections to look for solutions to the overcrowding at the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center. A group of corrections officers wrote the mayor a letter detailing what the call dangerous conditions for both inmates and staff at the facility.

The council in its consent agenda appointed Michael Shantz to the city’s finance committee and reappoint Rich Pope to the Port Commission.

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