Bethel’s City Council to dig into water and sewer rates

by Ben Matheson on November 26, 2013

After delaying a look at raising water and sewer rates, the Bethel City Council is set to take up the complex issue tonight. A proposed memorandum would direct city staff to write up ordinances that would make the water and sewer operation pay for itself. The city currently has to transfer money from the general fund to cover costs. The future of the sewage lagoon depends on that cost structure, according to Mayor Joe Klejka.

The city needs grant money, and Klejka says agencies won’t award funds until the water and sewer rates cover their costs. The lagoon meanwhile is too small. One cell is shallow, and can’t be dredged. The second cell needs dividers, according to Klejka.

“Currently when the winds starts blowing hard we get so much wave action in the 2nd cell that it starts eroding the walls…changes from the rupturing leads to sewage spilling out on the tundra. So those are two really big problems we have. We have to plan how to fix it, but we need to get grants to be able to handle that sort of cost,” said Klejka.

The proposal as it stands would raise rates very quickly. Piped water in city sub is currently 125 a month. Under the proposal it would increase by 68% next year, adding 85 dollars a month. Sewer rates would go up 55% right away. Hauled water would see smaller changes. It could go down slightly next year, then go up 8 percent for 2 years and 4 percent for another two years. 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.

The city would try maintain a balance of a half million dollars in an infrastructure replacement fund. Klejka says the public will have a few chances to comment before rates are approved by the council in the coming months.

“I encourage everyone in Bethel to really pay attention to this, weigh in, and just realize the problems that we have. We’ve been subsidizing water and sewer for a lot of years and we do need something to address this. I’m sure there are a lot of good ideas on how to actually attack this, but we’re just going to try and get this moving forward tonight,” said Klejka.

The water and sewer rate study is available here.

The council’s materials include a letter from a group of corrections officers from the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center about overcrowding at the jail. They said 200 inmates are housed in a building designed to hold 92. They say this presents serious risks to the facilities’ employees and the inmates. They ask for the city’s support in appealing to the department of corrections.

Bethel residents may soon have a new option for dog grooming. The council will take up a lease of animal shelter property to Shaundry Davis for a grooming business.

The council also looks at a resolution about updating the comprehensive record keeping system.

The Council will meet tonight at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. The public is invited to attend. The meeting will be aired live on 640 am and streamed at

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