Helper City Council reviews water rates
Residents in Helper may see changes in water bills depending on the outcome of a vote by city councilmembers that could occur next week.
At a council meeting on May 4, Helper officials discussed the possibility of rewriting the city's resolution on water rates.
If the Helper City Council passes the resolution, all local water users would see changes in rates.
Some Helper residents could see monthly bills decrease by as much as $2.50. Other water users who consume less than 20,000 gallons of water per month could see an increase of as much as $8.
Under the proposed rate structure, residential users would pay a base fee of $21.50. The fee would include up to 8,000 gallons of water.
Under Helper's current structure, water users are billed a base rate of $12. However, the base rate does not include any water. Instead, users pay $1.50 for each 1,000 gallons of water they consume.
The proposal is about more than money and represents an attempt to not only generate needed funding, but also encourage city residents to water lawns.
"We look a lot like Woodside in some areas," commented Mayor Mike Dalpiaz.
The mayor explained that many Helper residents have cut back or stopped watering lawns because of increases in rates during recent years.
City officials hope that, by including a standard amount of water in each customer's monthly allotment, all Helper residents will be encouraged to water lawns.
As the city's proposed water rate structure stands, Helper residents who consume less than 7,000 gallons would pay more for water.
Customers using 1,000 gallons of water would see an increase of $8 from $13.50.
As water consumption rises to the 8,000 gallon level, the increase to an individual user's water bill drops.
At 4,000 gallons, customers would see an increase of $3.50 and at 6,000 gallons, the increase drops to 50 cents.
Helper residents who use between 7,000 and 10,000 gallons of water would actually see a decrease of as much as $2.50 in monthly bills.
Beyond the 10,000 mark, Helper water users would see increases until reaching 20,000 gallons. At 20,000 gallons, the increase plateaus at $8.
A customer who uses 20,000 gallons would be charged $49.50 under the current rate structure. That amount would increase to $57.50 if the council approves the resolution.
Councilmember John Jones, who authored the proposal, suggested that an additional rate increase be made at 100,000 gallons.
Users who surpass the 100,000 amount would be charged $4 for each 1,000 gallons used.
The increase would add an additional $100 to the bill for a customer who uses 100,000 gallons and $200 for a customer who uses 200,000.
The increase would only affect only bigger water users. Along with some businesses, schools would fall into the group of users.
Mont Harmon Junior High and Sally Mauro Elementary often top the list of water consumers, maxing out usage in the summer somewhere between one and two million gallons per month.
If one of the biggest water users consumed one million gallons in a month, the rate would increase from $2,989.50 under the current structure to $3,989.50 under the proposed rates - an increase of $1,000.
In spite of recognizing the need to encourage users to consume more water, Dalpiaz spoke out against the proposed resolution, stating that it would hurt individuals who are on fixed incomes.
The mayor estimated that as many as one-third of the city's residents were in such circumstances and would be adversely affected by the change.
Dalpiaz pointed out that the city has an estimated 200 million gallons of water at its disposal each year, but only sells about 72 million gallons to its customers.
The rest is either used by the city, which does not sell itself water or is released into the river.
The mayor suggested that the city develop a way to give some of that surplus water back to customers without raising rates.
Councilmember Dean Armstrong echoed a sentiment that he expressed last year as a citizen when the city raised rates in order to pay for a its new swimming pool.
At that time, Armstrong suggested that the city create a fund that could be used to pay all or part of the increases to users bills.
Such a program already exists in Price, where water users are given an opportunity on utility bills to pay extra into a fund. Residents who are having difficulties paying can apply to have their bills covered by those funds.
Armstrong suggested that such a program be instituted in Helper. Many residents on fixed incomes already take advantage of similar programs that cover all or part of utility bills.
Jones took the suggestion made by Armstrong under consideration and plans to have the recommended wording included in the resolution when it is presented for a vote by the council.
In opposition to the proposal, the mayor also pointed out that the water budget is in the black with surplus revenues for the year estimated at $80,000.
That savings is due primarily to a change at the beginning of the year that combined the streets department with the water department. In doing so, the city eliminated redundancies and saved costs as a result.
But according to Jones, this is the first time in years that the city will have turned a profit on water. He explained that the surplus revenue could be very easily consumed on a long list of repairs that has been overlooked for years.
Topping that list of repairs are three city storage tanks that need to be repainted.
Dalpiaz estimated that completing the repainting project would cost around $60,000 per water storage tank.
Other repairs on the list go back for more than a decade. The mayor recognized that many of the items that need repair were problems when he first took office in the 1990s.
Armstrong noted that keeping up with repairs is only part of the city's needs as far as water infrastructure are concerned.
Armstrong explained that many cities take a portion of surplus revenues generated each year and hold the money in a fund that can be used for capital improvements.
Should Helper's population expand in the future, the current water system will be inadequate to handle many more people than it presently supports.
More storage tanks and delivery lines would be necessary. In addition, the city council has expressed a desire in the past to upgrade metering systems so that they can be read in the winter.
Such a change would eliminate the city's current winter rate structure, which would result again in increased revenues.
Creating a capital improvements fund would allow the city to plan for and fund those upgrades and improvements as well as pay for unforeseen repairs that the city may face.
Such a fund may be necessary given the city's financial situation, according to Helper officials.
If the council accepts the surplus funding for the swimming pool, Helper will have maxed out the city's bonding capacity.
By maxing out Helper's bonding capacity, any emergency repairs to infrastructure would have to be fully funded by the city or by grants from outside sources.
Legally, the city could not take on any more debt, indicated the officials.
Questions of what the city will do with any surplus revenues generated by the proposed water rate changes as well as how to reduce the financial impact on Helper residents living on fixed incomes remained up in the air.
The full text of the resolution is expected to be presented at the council's meeting on May 18, where Helper officials will likely address the issues.