by Sue Deyoe ~ July 1st, 2011
Residents and businesses in downtown Talkeetna and east Talkeetna recently received word that they would be seeing a close to 50% rate hike in their water and sewer utility bill.
For the last year, the Talkeetna Sewer and Water Board has been discussing rate changes and increases. In March, the Borough public works manager, Chuck Braun, announced that the utility had gone into the red by almost $100,000 dollars. But when pushed, he wasn’t able to say why or explain the debt.
It took him several months to come up with an answer. But his answer is, basically, the system is not paying for itself.
Braun says ‘‘because it’s a service area, its required by state statute to have a balanced budget. For many years there was a fund balance. There is no longer a fund balance.’’ . He says the revenue has not kept up with the cost to run the utility.
The rate hike will mean an increase of about $44 per month for every customer across the board.
The system is currently $100,000 dollars in debt. With only 188 customers on the system, Braun says it will take 3 years to get back into the black. That is with a 2% rate increase on TOP of the $44 flat rate increase customers will most likely start paying in August or September.
At some time within the next year, the utility hopes that all commercial businesses will have working meters and be charged accurately for the amount of water that they use on a monthly basis.
Last fall, the utility board had proposed an increase for seasonal customers that go on standby for winter. At least one of those customers demanded an audit of the system to know that finances were truly in order. It was suspected that there were customers that had not paid their bills. As far as records show, no audit has ever been performed.
The next sewer and water board meeting on Wednesday afternoon might be telling for customers and the next Borough Assembly meeting on July 19th will include a vote on whether or not a rate hike will take place. Although it is the Assembly that votes on a rate increase, it IS Talkeetna’s system.
Since Talkeetna is unincorporated, there is no avenue for the utility to pay its employee or gather the revenue. Therefore it is the Borough that takes care of the finances and manages the system. The Talkeetna Sewer and Water Board is a volunteer board that advises the Borough on the management of the system.