by Phillip Manning ~ August 7th, 2014
On Wednesday, CRW Engineering Group met with community members in Talkeetna to discuss the recent sewer and water system assessment. The two-hour meeting was dominated by discussion of potential rate structures. KTNA’s Phillip Manning was at the meeting, and has this report:
While there are some operational tweaks that could slightly ease the deficit spending of the Talkeetna Sewer and Water System, what the state-funded study finds is that a significant increase in revenue, meaning water bills, is necessary. On Wednesday, Andrea Meeks of CRW Engineering Group laid out three potential new rate structures, all of which incorporate significant annual increases. For example, the average residential user would end up paying around $145 per month in the summer of 2019, as opposed to the current rate of around $87. G. Denny, a member of the Talkeetna Community Council board of directors, said that, while the rate hikes might work on paper, they are not feasible in reality.
“…And, no matter how you boil it down with the census or projected figures of people who live in the area, the people that actually use this system here in this town are not going to be able to pay for it anytime in the near future or beyond.”
One structure, which uses higher rates for water usage in the summer than in the winter, was deemed too complicated by attendees. The other two structures are somewhat simpler. Under both, commercial users pay a higher cost per gallon than residential customers, but everyone is metered. Currently, only commercial customers using more than 8,000 gallons per month are charged on top of the flat fee.
Because of the addition of metering to residential accounts, as well as a drop in the rate per 1,000 gallons for commercial users, the largest consumers of water would actually see their bill drop in 2015, according to a model provided at the meeting, while residents and smaller commercial users would see an immediate increase. That led to this exchange between Andrea Meeks and Talkeetna Community Council member Robert Gerlach, was suggesting a method that would result in dramatic increases for large users.
Andrea Meeks: “So, for this month of June, this commercial user used 65,000 gallons in that month.”
Robert Gerlach: “That would be about $1,500.”
Andrea Meeks: “How long is that company going to stay in business?…You know what I’m saying?”
Robert Gerlach: “I know what you’re saying, but, if they are not going to be able to pay for their rate, you’re going to shove it down the line to Mr. Denny…and jack his rates up?”
There were a few moments when the meeting bordered on chaos, with multiple conversations happening at once. That said, everyone seemed interested in working out the numbers, and community members contributed some potential alternative ideas, including elimination of interrupted service discounts and creating one rate structure for all customers, regardless of classification. Andrea Meeks says that CRW can run those numbers and see what the structure would look like in terms of dollars.
The members of the Talkeetna Sewer and Water Board who were present seemed to prefer the simplest of the three options. Under that plan, commercial and residential users would have separate per-gallon rates that would stay constant, regardless of the amount of water used each month. They are not the ultimate decision-makers, however. Once the final report is done later this month, borough staff will consider the options, and the Assembly will make the final call. Jim Jenson oversees the sewer and water system. He solicited feedback throughout the meeting, and says he will carry that forward to the borough.
“You know, I’ve listened to you all. I’m going to digest it. I’m going to talk to Andrea [Meeks]. We’ll come up with the least bitter pill.”
There is still some time before the assessment becomes final. Andrea Meeks says that CRW has until the end of the month, but she hopes to have everything finalized in the next two weeks. After that, it could head to the Borough Assembly this fall.