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Sunnyside upset by comments about city water rates

Sun Advocate reporter

At an East Carbon City council meeting three weeks ago, a presentation about water rates included some disparaging comments about Sunnyside, equating them to being teenagers being well-taken care of. On Tuesday night, the Sunnyside City Council wanted to clear the air and set the record straight.

The council requested that Jay Mashburn, a rural development specialist with the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, be present to make a presentation on Sunnyside's water rates. But the council also asked Mashburn to attend the meeting to express their displeasure with comments directed towards Sunnyside at an East Carbon City Council meeting held on April 26.

At the previous meeting in East Carbon, Mashburn gave a presentation about the water rates and base rates that East Carbon City currently charges residents for water use. In the presentation, Mashburn noted that East Carbon's water rates were significantly lower than other cities in the area, including Sunnyside, and was one of the lowest rates in the state. He compared East Carbon's rate with Sunnyside and found that residents in Sunnyside were paying almost twice as much as their counterparts in East Carbon.

When discussing the relationship the two cities have when dealing with water related issues, Mashburn said that the disparity between the two cities water rates was one of the contributing factors that has the system running much lower than it should be, instead of breaking even. Mashburn used a comparison which upset Sunnyside council members.

"Sunnyside is like the teenager living at home with the parents for free," Mashburn said during an East Carbon City council meeting on April 26.

Sunnyside City Mayor Doug Parsons said the council's biggest concern was being named teenagers getting a free ride with East Carbon City. Parsons and other council members noted that the two cities work together in many different areas not just pertaining to water and its treatment costs. Councilman Froy Garcia provided one example explaining that Sunnyside provides ambulance service to East Carbon. He said the city has to work around some issues including not always receiving a full 100 percent return for their expenditures for providing the service.

Mashburn apologized to the council for his comments saying he made a poor choice of words and didn't mean to portray the city in a bad light.

Despite the uproar over the comments made, council members and residents listened as Mashburn explained the water rate situation in both Sunnyside and East Carbon. While the council does not expect water rates to be raised any time soon, many listened to Mashburn's suggestions that cities should plan ahead looking at costs and be proactive in making decisions with the water system. Some of the suggestions included building up funds in areas such as emergency reserves, capital replacement and operational reserves.

Water rates equity is measured by the State of Utah Division of Drinking Water as a function of the Median Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) per household. The reason for the median being used for incomes is so that there is not a dramatic difference that sways the average rate with people who have little to no income compared to people who may be millionaires. The latest statistics provided by the state in 2009 show that East Carbon's MAGI was $26,320 while Sunnyside was listed at $34,789.

In determining water rates another form of calculating the amount residents should be paying for water is the maximum affordable water bill. The Utah Division of Drinking Water evaluates projects for funding and in the process they find the maximum affordability by calculating the local MAGI by 1.75 percent for the year.

The maximum affordable water bill for residents per month in East Carbon is $38.38 ($26,320 x .0175 = 460.6 / 12 = $38.38) compared to Sunnyside at $50.73 ($34,789 x .0175 = 608.8 / 12 = $50.73).

Some residents in the audience expressed concern that any possible rate increases would adversely affect residents in the community who are on fixed incomes. While an increase could be possible in the future, Parsons said residents should not worry about any increase within the immediate future.

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