Bethel City Council Inches Towards New Water Rates

by Ben Matheson on July 1, 2014

Pipes in Bethel's Housing Neighborhood. Photo by Ben Matheson/ KYUK.

Pipes in Bethel’s Housing Neighborhood. Photo by Ben Matheson/ KYUK.

The City of Bethel can’t apply for the grants it needs to fix the overstressed sewage lagoon and poor water quality in the Housing neighborhood. That’s because the utility is not covering costs though the current rates and taxpayers are picking up the half-million-dollar difference. The city council has been talking for many months on the contentious issue and is finally delving into specific proposals.

The Bethel City Council is looking at two different ways to raise water and sewer rates.
Vice Mayor Rick Robb on Tuesday night proposed a 10-percent increase to all rates and fees, which would bring the revenues very close to costs.

“Whatever you’re at 100 gallons, 1000 gallons, 10 percent. Piped water, 10 percent. It would be simple,” said Robb.

City Attorney Patty Burley suggested raising piped water customers 20 percent and hauled customers 10 percent to take into account that piped customers are currently underpaying. An even increase doesn’t fix the underlying issue of many hauled customers subsidizing those on unlimited piped water. Mayor Joe Klejka proposed a so-called “cost of service” rate that sharply brings up piped water prices, an increase of about 50 percent.

The Bethel City Council studies water and sewer rates on Tuesday, July 1. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

The Bethel City Council studies water and sewer rates on Tuesday, July 1. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

“I’m willing to go in any direction you want to go, but I think this comes to the fairest. It doesn’t mean people aren’t going to scream, but I’m trying to give the best proposal for fairest,” said Klejka.

Commercial customers would also pay more under Klejka’s proposal. Klejka keeps the hauled customers in one zone, instead of the proposed two zones that charged more for distant neighborhoods. Some hauled customers would see rates actually drop slightly in the cost of service model. The city would need to raise rates in the future to keep up with inflation.

A third variation that’s been discussed would increase each bill by a flat fee monthly, potentially 40 dollars.

On top of the base rates, the city may have to raise the five-dollar monthly fee intended to go towards depreciation. The city currently does not actually use the money for that purpose, it goes to cover operational expenses. The council can establish an account to ensure that the city is saving for improvements as outlined in the charge description on customer bills.

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