Helper council, mayor discuss city's water supply situations
|Helper Councilmember Bob Welch looks at the measuring gauge at the water storage tank on Gun Club Hill. The gauge has not worked for years. City workers currently check the water storage level in the tank by hand. |
While water worries continue to plague Carbon County in terms of drought and flood, Helper is having to examine two areas where the matter presents different problems.
One matter is the cost that the city may have to pay for water used last year when a new supply line was being installed. The second matter has to do with the tanks that store water for the city's residents.
Last summer, Helper installed a new line to bring water down the canyon to the town.
The city faced with an emergency situation because the old line was leaking more water along the way to the town's storage tanks than was being delivered.
An emergency loan from the Utah Permanent Community Impact Board took care of the cost of the line.
But there was another expenditure associated with the installation of the line - the cost of buying water from the Price River Water Improvement District during the down time.
"The water district billed us and we paid it all," said Mayor Joe Bonacci at a city council meeting on April 21. "Now, PRWID has sent us an additional bill saying that the charges were not correct."
The change in Helper's bill resulted after the PRWID board reviewed the district's policies on water charges as well as concerns from Wellington city.
Wellington was concerned that the temporary water supplied by PRWID to Helper was not charged at least at the rate Wellington has been paying as a regular customer.
PRWID staff members said the district had charged Helper $1.16 per thousand gallons, the same as assessed for overage rates in other places in the county.
But an audit of the water improvement district's policies showed that Helper's cost should have been higher.
Consequently, PRWID submitted a letter to Helper asking for an additional $118,813.82 payment from the city.
Helper paid $70,214.80 on the original billing. The billing indicated that Helper used 60,530,000 gallons of water from the PRWID system between March and December of last year.
However, Helper councilmembers felt that the cost had been misrepresented from the beginning because, in verbal commitments, city officials had been told the water would come at the lower rate.
"I talked with PRWID's legal counsel and he said that the staff cannot bind a water rate for the board," explained Helper City Attorney Gene Strate. "I have also done some research on this and - in theory - legally, payment should be made for the value of what has been received. However, I think the city needs to talk with PRWID and try to work this out."
Some councilmembers at the meeting were not happy about the situation. The officials were concerned with what they felt was represented to Helper and were not sure that the city should pay the extended bill.
"As far as I can see, we have paid this bill," said Councilmember Chuck Buchanan. "It's as if I bought a piece of steel for my business, cut it up and then the company I bought it from sends me a bill and says I owe more for it. What Wellington pays for water is a contract between the city and PRWID."
Helper's representative on the PRWID board also had some strong reservations about the situation as well.
|The oldest water tank in Helper actually looks more like the top of an old shed or garage with its rusted metal. This tank is no longer in use because of its deteriorated condition. Originally built in the 1930's it was renovated in the 1960's.|
"I told them that we had paid what they charged us," said Councilmember Tony Gonzales. "We called them and they sent us the water. They are not the sole source of water for us like they are for Wellington. They were selling emergency water to us with no set policy. We paid what they billed."
However, the letter the district sent Helper had no mention of the Wellington situation, but referred to Resolution 1999-2 in which PRWID charges $17.32 for 6,000 gallons per connection and the graduated scale used for overages.
"The point is that we established that $1.16 per gallon with their staff and, if we had known they were going to charge us more ,we would have raised our rates to compensate for it," said Councilmember Bob Welch, who oversees the water department for the city.
But in trying to resolve the problem, Welch suggested that Helper possibly could lease 200 of the city's 300 shares to PRWID for a period of time in payment for the difference.
"This could take care of that debt," pointed out Welch. "We only need 60 shares a year for our water needs at this time."
But Buchanan was against the suggested arrangement pointing out that any asset the city owns that is used or sold still reflects on the bottom line of the town.
"This city can't stand another $160,000 in debt," he said. "The point is that it still has to go on the books. I just don't think we should do a trade on this."
Strate pointed out that his concern is about the future and the towns relationship with PRWID, an organization with which the town may have to deal again when it comes to water problems. That agency already provides sewer services to Helper.
The council then decided it would be best to put together a small committee to talk with PRWID about the situation.
"I just think it is best we talk with them and to not jump to conclusions about this situation," said Welch after the matter was decided.
Welch also had information for the council on another potential water problem; the city's storage tanks.
"Our tanks are all over 20 years old and they are out of compliance with codes," he said. "We are getting by okay today, but the city cannot grow or expand with the capacity we presently have."
The city has a request in with the CIB to help with tank rehabilitation, but an engineering study done by that state agency basically says the city can get by with what they have at this time, Welch explained. The city presently has four tanks, a west side tank on Gun Club Hill, one above Castle Gate Subdivision, and east side tank and an old underground tank that is on the road to the gun club. The underground tank is no longer in use. He also mentioned the storage capacities for the tanks was probably inadequate, which set off a debate amongst council members about how much storage the city really needed anyway.
"The decisions we make on what to do about these tanks is a very serious one," said the mayor. "We will have to live with that decision for a long time."
But any decision the council could make on the tanks may be moot if they don't eventually get money from the CIB for them. Welch says that with the engineers report he thinks the CIB will probably not give them the money anyway.
In an interview on Tuesday Welch also said that his concerns extend beyond the problem of growth as well.
"I have a lot of concern about the capacity of our storage system should we have a big fire in Helper," he said. "If that were to happen the tanks might be down so low that the city may have to restrict use to just drinking water for a couple of days until the tanks could refill."
Welch also expressed reservations about further debt to rehab the tanks or build anything new.
"If the city has to take on a loan for the pool (a request which will probably appear before the CIB board in June) the possibility of another loan for a tank would have to wait for several years, or a drastic rate increase would have to take place," concluded Welch.