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East Carbon hikes vacant water rate

Sun Advocate community editor

After months of discussion, the East Carbon council voted to increase the city's vacant water rate for all property owners who currently have a hookup and a structure on their property.

Following a public hearing on March 11, the councilmembers voted unanimously to raise the rate from $4 to the standard active fee of $15.50.

According to city recorder Liz Marquez, much of the opposition to the rate increase during the public hearing came from citizens who owned property that was not developed, but did have a water hookup.

Additionally, the city specified that anyone who removes a hookup from their property would be charged an impact fee of $250 and $750 to have the water meter re-installed.

The vacant lot fee has been discussed with the council on several occasions by consultant Jay Mashburn of the Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC).

"I need you to understand just how bad this problem is," said Mashburn during a council meeting on Feb. 26. "Basically, what is happening in East Carbon is that the city is not even covering its own operation costs, all revenue generated is going back into the system and then some."

RCAC provides assistance to small municipal and non-profit water, wastewater and solid waste management systems in 11 western states.

In 2006, RCAC assisted 443 communities to build, improve, manage, operate or finance drinking water, wastewater or solid waste systems.

RCAC also helped rural communities access over 24 million in grants and loans and trained over 2,800 individuals through customized on-site technical assistance and over 200 workshops.

It has long been Mashburn's contention that the city needs to increase the existing rates not only to more efficiently operate the system, but to insure the bond payments which are tied to East Carbon's water system.

"You lose over $25,000 annually by charging this vacant lot rate," said Mashburn. "That is not an easy loss to take for a community of this size. The bottom line is that the base rate you are charging is not sufficient not to mention a $4 rate for vacant owners."

Mashburn has also stated in previous meetings that the city may need to consider charging as high as $34 for water, a number much higher than the current rate of $15.50 per month for the first 6,000 gallons.

Residents on fixed incomes and Social Security weighed heavily on the minds of the council and the citizens during discussions associated with increased rates.

During an earlier meeting, former Councilmember David Maggio commented that while the city's base rate has not kept up with inflation, neither has Social Security.

Individuals on a fixed income have not bypassed Mashburn's calculations.

"Because of the $4 vacant rate an elderly woman who does not use much water is paying the most for every drop at this point," said Mashburn at the Feb. 26 meeting.

Councilmember Joyce Caviness indicated that her fears lie in what will happen if East Carbon fails to make adequate changes to the city's water rates.

"I don't ever want to see us get put in the situation Sunnyside city is in currently and the $4 vacant rate is taking us there," said Caviness. "If we don't do something, the state is going to take over our water system and then we will have no control over what is charged to our citizens."

While the ordinance adopted on March 11 may not fix all of East Carbon's water worries, it will infuse the city with some immediate capital.

"We don't want to overcharge our citizens," concluded Caviness at the Feb. 26 meeting. "But we do need to become consistent with what is being charged in the rest of the county."

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