Monday, December 3, 2012

City proposes water rate increase

Council to hear update Tuesday

Water. We often take it for granted. Turn on the faucet and out it comes. 
But beyond the tap lies a complex system of pipes that connects the Rathdrum Prairie aquifer to our homes and businesses.
This system must be maintained. And as more people move to the Coeur d’Alene, it must also be expanded. The Water Department has updated its plan to do both. And Tuesday, the City Council will hear that update along with proposed changes to user rates and connection fees. The Council is expected to set an adoption and public hearing for Jan. 2.
Nobody likes a rate increase. But if the water system is to be sustainable, an increase is necessary, said Water Superintendent Jim Markley. The Department relies on user fees to fund all of its operations and does not receive funding from taxes.
The bottom line: Existing customers would see a modest increase of 2.50 percent starting March 2013. That would rise to 4.90 in 2014 and hold steady each year until 2018.
“Even with the proposed modest increases in rates and fees, we will still be one of the lower priced water utilities in the area both in fees and in rates,” Markley said.
A residential customer using 10,000 gallons in a month would see their monthly water bill increase to $14.07 in 2013 and $14.80 in 2014 when the 4.90 percent increase would take effect.
New users would see an increase in capitalization fees. For a residential user, the fee would rise from $2,045 to $2,452, a $407 increase. Based on 350 to 510 new connections a year, the fee is expected to generate between $0.75 million in 2013 and $1.44 million in 2018.
The Water Department’s Capital Improvement Plan identifies $11.5 million in project costs over the next six years and $49.7 million over the next 20 years. Some of these projects will be funded directly by new growth. Both the rate and fee increases are expected to cover the city’s share of the projects identified for construction over the next six years, Markley said. However, rates and fees would need to be re-evaluated for projects beyond that period, he added.
The city’s water system is in good condition as a result “excellent maintenance practices on the major system components,” according to JUB Engineers, which updated the water plan. But the city will need to prepare for expansion. Based on year-to-year growth rates, JUB predicts the system will need to expand its pumping capacity between 2026 and 2031.

Water system at a glance

  •  The city’s water system uses groundwater as its source.
  •  Nine wells are located throughout the city and deliver water to customers via the distribution system.
  • The system includes eight storage tanks located on Tubbs Hill, Best Hill, Mineral Drive at Wilbur Avenue, Armstrong Park, Stanley Hill, Blackwell Hill, and at the Coeur d’Alene Industrial Park. The tanks hold approximately 9 1/2 million gallons of water.
  • Combined, the wells can pump 37.4 million gallons per day. 
  • The system has nearly 18,000 water accounts.