Helper council considers raising city's water rates
The Helper City Council conducted its monthly meeting Feb. 20. Top on the agenda was the idea of increasing water rates in the city.
"This would be the first increase the city has had on water rates in 20 years," stated council member, Robert Welch.
Although the council feels that a rate increase is necessary, they also feel that the increase should not come as a surprise to Helper residents.
"I'm afraid there's nothing else we can do in order to maintain the water system in the city. I am more than willing to listen to the concerns of residents and any ideas which they may have to avoid the increase. At this point however, I think this is the only option in this situation," explained Welch.
When residents hear rate increase, they almost immediately figure that the change in billing will break the bank.
In this situation, however, Welch has constructed a plan which will only increase the water rate by $2 a month and the sewer rate also by $2.
"Currently, the city has one of the lowest water and sewer rates in the county. As a council, I feel that the issue of increasing rates has been avoided as long as possible. We are now experiencing maintenance problems on a regular basis. In order to provide quality service to the resident's we need to generate a revenue. This increase will make quite a difference," continued Welch.
The idea behind the rate increase is to promote water conservation. The current rate for water is $12 residential fee for up to 6000 gallons used. The increase would bring this monthly fee to $14 for the same amount of water used.
If a resident conserves water however, the rate will decrease and the user will be charged for only the water used during the month.
"The idea is simple. Conserve water and the bill will come down. Abuse the water and the rate will go up," stated Welch.
The recommended rate increase will break down to $1.50 per 1,000 gallons used up to 10,000 gallons.
Currently, the rate stands at $2 per 1000 gallons which breaks down to the $12 monthly charge.
Despite water rates decreasing by .50 cents per gallon, a new $5 per month meter usage fee will be applied.
The total residential bill will then add up to the $14 per month.
The city has also decided to charge residents $13 per month per 10,000 gallons used during non-readable periods.
Therefore, Helper residents will feel a slight rate decrease during the winter months.
In connection with the city's sewer services, Helper officials plan to raise the connection rates by $2 per month.
Citizens residing in Helper would pay a flat rate of $18.50 per month for the city's provision of the sewer services.
The extra money generated by the rate increase will go directly toward water and sewer maintenance and improvements.
Welch explained that this winter, the Fish Creek Spring which delivers water to the city from Scofield Reservoir froze for the second time in 20 years.
Because the weather has bee rather quite mild during winter 2003, the line was not insulated by snow, which caused the line to freeze.
"We have about a two mile long water line which is exposed to the elements. It is uncovered and therefore, the line has froze. When the spring months come, we will have to go up there and try to remedy the problem. This will not only cost the city a considerable amount to cover, but we will also have to pay for the cost of dirt and equipment needed to fix this problem. This is only one example of what this rate increase will help to fund," explained Welch.
The council agreed and felt that a slight rate increase is almost unavoidable. The public representatives, however, decided to postpone adopting the increase until Helper citizens had the chance to voice their opinions and ideas on the situation.
"We don't want to blind-side the Helper residents. I feel that it is important to listen to the citizens and then decide if this is the only option we have," Welch stated to the council.
The decision was made to carry over the issue of water rate increases until next month when the council meets during it's monthly public meeting.
"This will allow residents to come out and express their feelings. That way, the increase will not just appear on a bill. Citizens will be aware of the possibility of a rate increase and will have the chance to address this council. It's only fair," explained mayor, Joe Bonacci.
The next public meeting the council will conduct will take place March 20 at 6 p.m. at the Helper Auditorium.
Concerned citizens will have an opportunity at this time to share their concerns and thoughts regarding the rate increase.
"The last time a water rate increase was passed was in 1980. The city does not receive any type of federal funding for water maintenance therefore, we can't deliver quality service unless we have proper funding," concluded the mayor.
Other matters discussed at the monthly meeting included the following:
The council agreed to begin requiring that all Helper citizens who burn weeds, trash or any other materials in the city must obtain a burn permit before doing so.
The fee for a permit will be $5 and will be good for up to two weeks.
"By requiring residents to obtain burn permits before lighting a fire, we will eliminate the number of false alarms that the fire department will be called on. The police department will then be able to enforce penalties for those who do not follow the permit rules," explained Zamantakis.
Carbon County animal services representative Patty Pierce approached the city council with a request to require cat owners to license the pets on a yearly basis.
Currently, a bill which the Utah Legislature is considering requires that all cats turned into an animal shelter must be immediately euthanized unless proper owner identification is present.
"The no-hold policy will require that all shelters in the state put down any cat that is not properly marked or have a chip.
Last year, the Carbon County animal shelter euthanized 752 dogs and cats. If the proposed bill passes the Utah Legislature, the guideline will increase the numbers and creating bigger problems, pointed out Pierce.
The idea of requiring cat owners to license feline pets would hopefully reduce the number of cats which would lose their lives because of the new law, if passed by the state legislators.
"Pet owners are required to license their dogs each year, why not set up a small fee for cats too," encouraged Pierce.
After a brief discussion on the matter, the council voted to decline the ordinance which would require cats be licensed yearly.
On a similar matter, the council did approve to change the current fees for licensing dogs in the city.
Currently, dogs which are neutered or spayed cost pet owners $6 a year to be licensed. Pet owners who have not had their pet fixed pay $12 for the year.
The new change will take effect next year and will require that owners pay $5 for fixed animals and $25 for those who are not.
The theory is to increase the number of pets that are fixed and decrease the number of animals who are not wanted and euthanized each year in the county.
"If we hit the pet owners in the pocket book, maybe they will understand the importance of having their pets fixed and licensed," stated Bonacci.
American Legion baseball coaches Jeff Cisneros and Jeff Jewkes presented the city council with the second place trophy which the team captured last year.
The coaches also explained the current situation at the baseball field to the council members. The field is located next to the city park.
"We have put in a lot of time and work into that field the past several years. The problem which we are facing is that kids come into this field and tear it up by riding their bikes and using the field for everything but baseball. We do not have a problem with the public using the field for baseball, but it is a problem when they cause destruction," explained Cisneros.
In order to eliminate the problem regarding the field, the coaches asked permission to set up gates and lock the facility.
"We have a guy who is constructing rod-iron gates for the field and will probably cost us nothing. All we need is the permission from the city to keep these gates locked," Jewkes explained to the council.
It was decided that locking the facility would not be a problem as long as the city also had a key to the area.
"We would see to it that the city has a key and we would also be willing to open the field to public use. The key will at least bring some accountability to those who use the field and hopefully detour those who use the field for activities which should not be performed on a baseball field," stated Cisneros.
The council also expressed concerns about the large lights which are used at the field.
"We just need to make sure that we limit the usage of these lights. They cost the city an enormous amount of money each time they are used. We just need to limit the usage to when it is absolutely necessary," explained council member, Tony Gonzales.
The coaches agreed and they also explained that they are looking toward applying for a grant which would allow them to construct bathrooms at the facility.
"It has just become troublesome not having a bathroom on the premises. If we can get the funding for it, we will be glad to construct a facility," commented Cisneros.
During the last four to five years, the American Legion field has received $50,000 in repairs and construction. Therefore, the bathrooms are only a thought at this point.