|As warmer weather approaches, Carbon County residents are becoming more concerned about drought conditions. Helper city officials addressed this concern as they voted to raise water rates in the city. The council feels that the new rates will not only generate much need water maitenance money, but also promote conservation. The new rates will allow residents to be charged for their usage rather than a flat monthly rate.|
Last Thursday, the Helper City Council voted in favor of a water rate increase. As the meeting kicked off, the council made the city's point clear - Helper desparately needs revenues for water and sewer maintenance.
"The water lines here in the city and the main line which delivers water from Fish Creek are in need of repairs. Right now, we have no choice but to fix the Fish Creek line. As problems arise, we will need a fund that we can dip into to fix the troubles that occur," explained Councilman Bob Welch.
Residents in attendance at the public meeting had the opportunity to address the council with ideas and concerns regarding the issue. Grant Howell was the first to approach the board.
"I just want to know why this same council last year said that they would not raise utility rates because they were not worried about revenue. Instead, they said they were worried about conservation," questioned Howell.
The response from the council was unanimous. When the statement was made, the city was not in the middle of a budget crunch. The council was new and the members felt that the existing utility rates would be suitable.
Conservation was the main issue last year. Utah is entering another drought year and a rate increase would promote careful use of water.
"I believe the statement which I made last year was that I won't say yes or no to a rate increase. I would not make a definite statement saying that I would never want to increase rates in the future. That is just something that is too hard to predict," pointed out Welch.
With budget numbers down and maintenance needs rising, the council felt that the only way to take care of the situation was to increase the monthly rates.
"The way that we have designed the proposed increase would allow Helper residents to not only conserve water, but to save on their monthly bills by doing so," stated Welch.
The comment brought up the question about the largest water user in the city and how the customer could participate in conservation.
"The biggest water users in Helper are the schools. Why not make them use secondary water? The more water they use, the more the taxpayers will pay for their water bills," argued Howell.
Mayor Joe Bonacci explained that he thought that the schools could not use secondary water because of liability issues.
"There are some laws that protect municipalities, but not the schools. It is all right for cities to use the water on park lawns. But if a school is connected to a secondary system, the chances of a child drinking from a faucet that is hooked to this system increases as well as the chance of the child becoming ill," stated Bonacci.
Howell suggested that the city install secondary water systems for the residents of Helper.
"At this point, there just is not enough money in the water fund to install secondary lines. Maybe this is something we can look into in the future, but I see no way that we can install new lines when we don't have enough money to maintain the lines we already have," stated Bonacci.
Howell asked how the city could be in so much in the red since last year.
"Our main concern last year was, indeed, conservation. As a new council, I don't think that we were aware of the problems that already existed with the infrastructure. We have learned of these problems over the course of the year and now we are forced to take action. By having the money available when something breaks, we will now be able to repair the problem when it happens, not wait until we have enough money," Bonacci explained.
A second Helper resident approached the council with comments.
"Looking at the proposed rate increase, I see that there is a monthly meter fee. Is this fee going to be in effect forever and what is it for," questioned the citizen.
Welch explained that the meter fee would cover the usage and maitenance fee of each meter. The fee would also cover the replacement of the meter.
The resident then asked about the cities budget. "Why can't you just pull money from the general fund to use for water and sewer repairs?"
The council explained that this was impossible. "We have funds which are set aside for specific departments. We can't mix up these funds. In other words, we can't take money from the street department to fix a broken water line. The money for water must come from the water fund and the money from sewer must come from the sewer fund," the mayor explained.
Because of this fact, the council is forced to raise both water and sewer rates in order to generate the much needed revenue.
As the public discussion drew to a close, a third citizen approached the council and complemented Helper officials for conducting the rate increase in an open manner at a public meeting.
After hearing comments from the public, the council approved the water and sewer rate increase.
Beginning in April, Helper residents can expect to pay a $5 water meter usage fee each month.
From the base rate, residents will be charged $1.50 per 1,000 gallons used up to the 10,000 gallon mark.
Any water used above the designated mark will be charged $2 per 1,000 gallons used for the next 5,000 gallons.
Sewer rates will also increase from $16.50 per month to $18.50 per month beginning in April.
The first bill which Helper residents will notice the changes will be sent out the beginning of May for usage during the month of April.
Residents are encouraged to pick up a complete schedule of the rate increase at city hall. The schedule includes residential and commercial rates.
In an unrealted business matter, the council discussed adjusting the Helper auditorium fees.
"The last time that we raised the fees for auditorium use was in 1980. I don't think that we need to double the fees, but they do need to be adjusted. We need to look at how much it costs to maintain the building and adjust the rates according to these figures," noted Councilman Kirk Mascaro.
The Helper council members agreed to look into the fees and determine a fair charge for auditorium usage. The matter will be discussed and rates adjusted at a future city meeting.