By Martin J. Kidston
Its a done deal.
With a unanimous vote by the city council, Havres water fees will see an average increase of 15 percent a hike that will pay for the citys to-be-built $5.9 million water treatment plant.
The councils vote came on the heels of a public hearing, in which about 30 area-residents sat in to hear experts explain why the new plant is necessary, and how the increases will affect the average citizen.
Plant Superintendent Shelley Nolan explained that the water treatment plant, built in 1951, was designed as a lime softening plant with a capacity of only 3 million gallons per day. It was later converted to treat water differently, and in 1976, it was upgraded to a daily output of 4.5 million gallons. In 1985, the plant was retrofitted to meet safety standards for chemical feed and storage, and eventually converted again to liquid feed, before new sludge ponds had to be built in 1993.
Then they discovered they needed new filters.
The lifetime of the current filters is 15 years, Nolan said, adding that the current filters have been in use for 24 years.
So with the plant going to pot and the need for a new facility becoming ever clearer, the city hired Carollo Engineers in 1996 to draw up plans for a new facility. The plans carried options ranging between $5.5 million and $6.5 million.
A $5.9 million plan was approved by the city council, and a 15-percent increase in water fees will be tacked on to pay for it. But its the increases that have many citizens concerned.
My biggest concern is that costs will go up and up and up, Irene Damschen said. Our bill has already gone up $4 under the first increase. Last August my water bill was $83. Now they will add the additional 15-percent increase my social security only went up 1.5 percent.
Val Murri also expressed concerns over the rising costs.
My first concern is that we who are working can absorb this latest 15-percent increase. But the seniors on fixed incomes may have a harder time, he said. My second concern is that if the new plant doesnt eliminate the water problems, color, odor, drinkability, and they have to fund another bond issue to pay for new water mains, well end up with atrociously high water bills here, and the city will have a lot of brown yards.
Other citizens expressed concern over the flat fee, a charge of $9 which will be applied despite the amount of water used. Add to that $9 a charge of $1.92 for every 1,000 gallons of water used, and costs can quickly escalate.
You know, for a person like me who uses less than 1,000 gallons of water, it isnt the price per 1,000 gallons that troubles me, its that flat fee, Kay Elliott said.
Lowell Swenson, city clerk and treasurer, said the average residential water bill will increase from $24.52 to $28.20, although it varies greatly from one user to another.
The new plant may go under construction as soon as August.