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Surge in apartment water use puzzles ECC officials

The Whitmore Apartments water bill exceeded $4,300 in July.

Sun Advocate reporter

A spike in the water use and the subsequent costs at a low income public housing complex in East Carbon City may be too much to bear for the local Housing Authority to cover the added costs.

Victor Staley, an accountant and human resources manager with the Housing Authority of Carbon County, told the East Carbon City council on Tuesday evening that the high cost of water usage for the month of July has him shaking his head as to why the bill was much higher than in previous months.

Over a one month period this year from June to July, the water bill the Housing Authority received from East Carbon City showed an increase of over $3,200, according to the billing information Staley provided to the council. He said the water bill for June was $1,078.25 and in July the bill was at $4,307.

The information has Staley perplexed on the exact reason why the bill has shot up so much.

"I just can't see our residents using this amount of water," he explained.

The housing in question, Whitmore Apartments, located at 111 Whitmore Drive, has 20 single occupant houses. Residents who live in the apartments are low income families that are making less than $500 a month. About 30 percent of a resident's income is used to pay to live there while they are given help from the Housing Authority with the rest of the costs, Staley said.

Because the Housing Authority of Carbon County is considered a non-profit organization, money is not readily available to cover such a high increase, Staley said. With cutbacks in the funding for the Housing Authority from the federal government, Staley said the organization has needed to work around the smaller budget available to them. As the funding has been scaled back, by upwards of 40 percent, the ability to pay the high water bill is not something the housing authority could easily take care of, Staley said.

"We're not making any money here," Staley said referring to the housing. "But we need to keep things up for the tenants. This place has to stay open somehow and we've got to have some place for these people to go."

Councilman Darrell Valdez said he and others with the city have noticed water flowing from an area just outside of the apartments. In one example, Valdez said he observed water coming out of a box next to the apartments over a three-day period. Staley and Valdez said they both have noticed a person living at the apartment complex who tends to water their yard a lot.

One possible reason for the high water usage noted on the water meter could be because the water used by the resident was not shut off completely after each use, Valdez said.

"Water runs non-stop over there, all day long," Valdez said.

The water usage at the apartments have jumped up over the months, especially in July. Much of the usage could be attributed to people watering their lawns and gardens on a regular basis, according to Councilman James Wayman.

The exact reasons for the high amount of water being used at the apartments may not be easily known. Jim Robertson, an ECC resident, believes that the water meters at the Whitmore Apartments may be affected by a number of pipes underground that have been used over the years. His conclusion is that water could be flowing down the pipes tipping off the meters at the Whitmore Apartments but ends up going somewhere other than the apartment complex.

Staley said the Housing Authority of Carbon County had the pipes leading to the apartment complex checked as recently as last year for any problems.

"We'll have to double check what's going on with them," Staley said.

To provide a possible solution to the problem, Robertson, who has served on the Housing Authority board for over 10 years, said the city could install extra meters at the apartments to monitor each resident and how much they use over a period of time.

Another concern for Staley is with the recent water rate increase in the city and how much it will affect the budget for the Housing Authority. However, the decision to raise water rates in the city was long overdo, Valdez said.

The city council has discussed implementing a life line for those residents in the city who may need assistance with the increased cost of water, but they have yet to talk over at a council meeting how the life line system would be put into place and who would be eligible to sign up.

Councilman Andy Urbanik suggested the council table the issue until the city can research the readings on the water meters, including over the last year, to determine the next step the city will take. One possible outcome to the water issue could see the USDA working towards an inter-local agreement with East Carbon City, Urbanik said.

Calling the situation a 'mixture of problems', Staley said after the meeting he was pleased to see that the city council would look into the issue.

"Anything will help us," Staley said. "Hopefully we will have a combined effort between the Housing Authority and East Carbon to solve the problem."

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