All may be fair in love, war, but not in city’s new water-sewer rates

As I sat in my aisle seat minding my own business, reading my John Grisham novel, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between my two seat mates.  They were lamenting their most recent water bills, “Over $35 this month!” said the young woman in the window seat.

The man in the middle, who is her neighbor in Anchorage, said his bill usually runs about $20.  It was at this point I could hold my tongue no longer.  

You see, my most recent water/sewer bill was $234. We are a family of three, and do not use water excessively.  The previous month’s bill for about the same usage was $119. 

After about a year of work, a task force had come up with a new water-sewer rate model that was deemed fair.

Merriam Webster defines fair as treating people in a way that does not favor some over others. 

Near impossible to achieve fairness when rate setting. The city manager himself even suggested that by setting new rates the council would be creating new sets of winners and losers.

The most recent losers had been the apartment owners; really the tenants who will ultimately bear the cost of the “loophole” whereby each apartment would pay a customer charge for water sewer. Now bear in mind, that’s one meter, one bill and one customer, but this “loophole” as it was described by the city manager, would allow for a 10-unit building to go from a $45 monthly customer service charge to a $450 monthly customer service charge; this new amount in addition to the normal usage charge for water/sewer. Guess what, rents went up to accommodate.  (Can you imagine if your bank found a loophole to increase your monthly fees — a riot would ensue.)

Fast forward a year. The city council has shifted the target of loser to my back. I have the dubious distinction to be in a “lift station zone.”  This means that my sewer flows down hill, then hits a line that has a lift station to carry the sewage back to the treatment plant.  

Never mind that my neighbors and I are paying $36,000 each, for our share of the LID that built our section of the sewer line. No, just focus on the fact that my sewer charges went from $9 per thousand gallons to $22. Overnight.

Seem fair to you? What about a new water rate that adds to your bill for every pressure reducing station that your water travels through on its way to your home. The PR stations cost money to install and maintain, perhaps you will see a new rate model in the near future tracking your water from station to station like a pin ball machine, adding dollars to your bill along the way.

That’s absurd. So is my “lift station zone.” 

What about the graders that clear snow, should you pay more property tax to offset the cost of climbing East and West Hill? More wear and tear on the equipment, time, gas and other costs associated with higher elevation road clearing.  

We talk about expanding the water and sewer system and encouraging infilling; if I knew then what I know now, no way I’d have approved the LID.  

Rather than spend $31,000 advertising Homer as a great place to work, play and live in a book recently approved by the council and mayor, perhaps the council should allocate some money to an outside firm to do an independent audit of the entire budget, including the Water/Sewer Enterprise Fund.  

I wonder if the water and sewer fund is supporting the cost of the Ken Halpin litigation; perhaps Ken should pay for every gallon of raw sewage that flooded into his home. “Fair”?  I think not.

 Chris Story is the owner-broker of Story Real Estate and the host of Alaska Matters, a radio show that airs every Tuesday on KPEN 102 FM.