City Council Debates Fairness in Water Rates

by Ben Matheson on May 14, 2014

Vincent Moses shows water from his home in housing. Photo by Daysha Eaton / KYUK.

Vincent Moses shows water from his home in housing. Photo by Daysha Eaton / KYUK.

The City of Bethel has been subsidizing the water and sewer system for years at about a half million dollars annually. A proposed rate increase would allow the city to break even and save for upgrades to repair the sewage lagoon and replace rusty pipes. But some citizens say the rate increase is not fair.

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Piped water customers would see the biggest rise in costs, with the water bill going up 85 dollars the first year. Hauled customers would be split into two zones, with higher rates in Kasayuli, Larson, Blueberry, and Tundra Ridge subdivisions.

Both water cost and quality came up in a public hearing Tuesday night. Vincent Moses, who lives in housing says, given his water quality, boosting rates is troubling and cites his dog’s reaction to the water.

“If a dog drinks the water and he pukes, I think the quality of the water is not that good to drink,” said Moses.

The council commissioned an in depth rate study by CH2MHill, which runs over 100 dense pages. Former councilmember Eric Middlebrook, who was instrumental in putting together the last set of rates, brought up several issues with the proposed plan.

“To quote Saturday night live, this ordinance is not ready for prime time, I think it needs to go back have a lot of work done to it, a lot of these points gone through, hopefully come up with something better,” said Middlebrook.

The rates run through 2018 and rise at different levels depending on the customer’s service. The city’s ordinance itself runs 30 pages, and some are seeking a simpler way to raise revenues and end the city’s half million-dollar subsidy.

Council Member Heather Pike earlier this year proposed a 40-dollars a month charge for each customer. Bethel resident Mike Shantz said the council should consider a simple increase.

“It might sounds a little steep, but to me it is a very fair way to do it because everyone is going to take that 40 dollars hit that she suggested. I’m really trying to shoot for parity, fairness for everybody across the board,” said Shantz.

Fairness may be in the eye of the beholder. Councilmember Leif Albertson pointed to different definitions of fairness and says engineers who wrote the study were looking at fairness based of cost of service.

“If we do 40 dollars across the board, is that fair? It’s worth pointing out that if you don’t live on piped water and you don’t live in Kasayuli, a flat increase means you’re continuing to subsidize those neighborhoods, so whether you think that’s fair is up to you,” said Albertson.

He added that piped water may be a great deal for some households, there are others that would pay less if on a hauled plan. Council member Eric Whitney requested that a motion of a variation on the flat increase come before the council.

The council passed a motion to spend $1,200 dollars to have the engineer who wrote the study call in to the next council meeting by phone.

In other action, the council passed a motion to lease the property on which the PATC alcohol treatment center property sits to the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation. The council directed the city administration to use $60,000 dollars to repair existing boardwalks and bike paths. That is money that the city raised from the tobacco tax that has been sitting unused in the city’s account.

The council finished by going into executive session to discuss items related to the terminated contract of former city manager Lee Foley.

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