PRWID Board Sets Public Hearing for Water, Sewer Hikes
Price River Water Improvement District boardmembers voted unanimously Tuesday to put proposed $4 sewer and $3 water rate increases before the public at a March 18 hearing.
The board has reviewed several recommendations from PRWID's fiscal advisers, Lewis Young Robertson & Burningham, during the past few months.
A variety of fee increase scenarios were outlined, including $2 for each service in 2008, $1 in 2009 and a final increase of $1 for water and sewer in 2011.
After crunching numbers for each of the recommendations, Kaye Cripps, the district's treasurer, told the board she thought the $2, $1 and $1 would be the best approach.
"To me, it would be easier for the public to accept the gradual increases," said Cripps.
However, boardmember Mike Dalpiaz argued that it might be better to do all the increases at once and get it over with, an action that would infuse much needed funds into the district's coffers.
"I would be of a mind to do it all at once," said Dalpiaz.
Boardmember Karl Houskeeper added that up front increases would help put the district back on its financial footing in shorter order.
"It would make the district more solvent, provide funds for infrastructure and help us meet our bond convenants," Houskeeper said.
Much of the rate hike discussions concerned paying off more than $12 million in debt, which includes nine bonds which had been issued over a 15-year period. Looming over the district right now is a $860,000 bond payment due in April.
According to PRWID administrators the bond indebtedness became the focus of the last two budgets resulting in less funds for infrastructure.
"You have shifted everything away from operations and maintenance," Jeffrey Richens, assistant district manager told the board.
Even if the proposed increases go through, Richens said the district would not reach a financial comfort zone anytime soon.
Richens noted that the district would be all right "as long as nothing else falls apart."
Richens' assessment was echoed by several boardmembers.
"All we're doing is putting a Band-Aid on it," said Dalpiaz. "We're just applying a kid-sized Band-Aid."
Boardmember Keith Cox concurred with the staff and his colleagues.
"This is a minimum of what we are going to have to do," said Cox.
It appears that it was the board's reluctance to put financial burdens on its customers in the first place that brought the district to this point.
In 2006 ,Lewis Young Robertson & Burningham advised the board that PRWID needed to institute a $4.50 rate hike for both water and sewer.
LYRB's recommendation was not followed and a $1.50 increase for each utility was put into place in January 2007.
Sitting through her own preview of the March 18 hearing, Spring Glen resident Barbara Wilson, showed up Tuesday with questions and concerns for the board.
Referring often to a Feb. 7 article about the rate hikes in the Sun Advocate and a list of PRWID rates the article provided, Wilson wanted answers to why county residents pay more than those in the cities.
"How come we have to pay $27 and people in Price only pay $17?" asked Wilson.
Boardmember Richard Tatton explained that the cities' rates reflect the fact that Price, Wellington and Helper are responsible for maintaining their own lines. He said residents in the unincorporated areas pay PRWID for that maintenance.
"Does it cost $10 more a month to maintain our lines?" asked Wilson. "Because I never see anyone doing anything to lines that run across my property."
The rate difference is less than first reported in the article. Each city factors in additional costs for the utilities. Price residents pay $23.50 for sewer and Helper and Wellington residents pay about $20.
While she was assured that all residents in the county would be getting the same increases in water and sewer, Wilson pointed out that residents in the unincorporated areas were paying more to begin with.
"I don't understand why we have to assume the biggest costs," she said.
Wilson also gave the boardmembers a glimpse of what they might face March 18, asking "how did you get yourselves into this mess in the first place" and "how could this have happened?"
About halfway through the discussion at the Feb. 19 meeting, she leaned forward and whispered that she didn't see the point of the public hearing when it seemed the board had already made its decision on the fee hikes.
However, Paul Hicken, the water manager with the Utah Public Service Commission, indicated on Wednesday that residents do have some recourse concerning fee hikes.
Hicken suggested that residents first write their concerns and protests to the service provider.
If the residents get no satisfaction, they should then contact the regulatory body of the service provider. Examples include the county commission.
"These kinds of concerns typically have a lot of sway on elected officials," he said.
Acknowledging that residents will be disturbed by the proposals the board decided to write a letter to PRWID's customers explaining why the fee hikes are necessary.
"We can all sign an open letter that will explain where we are and give background why we need the increases," Boardmember Steve Rigby said.
PRWID's public hearing will commence at 7 p.m. on March 18 at the district offices, located 265 South Fairgrounds Road.
For more information, Carbon County residents may contact PRWID at 637-6350.