New water, sewer rate plan advances

A plan to overhaul the city of Homer’s water and sewer rate structure is now on the fast track. At its meeting Monday night, the Homer City Council heard testimony about the plan and cleared the way for its passage later this month. 

The new rate structure is the result of months of work by the Homer Water and Sewer Task Force, which presented its plan to the council at the April 8 meeting.

Homer Mayor Beth Wythe was the chair of the task force. She said the group came up with its plan by dividing the amount of money the city will need to recoup from water users in 2014 to offset the cost of the system — about $1.3 million dollars — by the amount of water the task estimated to be used next year — about 117 million gallons.

The goal, said Wythe, is for the system to pay for itself and the result is a “uniform rate model.” She said the new rate structure should be easier to use and adjust for future budgets and should be easier for customers to understand.

Under the plan, most users will pay a water rate of .011 cents per gallon. When that rate is combined with an $18-dollar “metered service fee,” Wythe said most average residential customers would actually see a small reduction in their monthly bills.

The model for the sewer rates is similar, with the estimated cost offset by the estimated usage. Most customers would pay a rate of 1.3 cents per gallon under the proposed plan.

So, for a customer using 1,033 gallons per month, the combined water and sewer rate would be just over $100.

At the council’s meeting Monday, council member Beau Burgess said the guiding principle of the new system is “cost causer, cost payer,” meaning those who use the most of the service will pay the most.

“A gallon of water is a gallon of water is a gallon of water,” said Burgess. “The closer you can get to that, the easier it is to … have a civilized discussion with someone objecting to their rates and not shift costs.”

Not everyone is a huge fan of the new rate structure.

Jon Faulkner is operator of Land’s End Resort, one of Homer’s largest private water users. Faulkner said he attended many of the task force’s meetings and described himself as a “tepid” supporter of the proposed rate model. 

Faulkner said that in his view, the current system is weighed down by administrative costs, something the new rate structure would not change. He also predicted the new structure would fail to encourage water conservation. 

Faulkner said the whole thing is way too dependent on the water and sewer rates paid by one business – his.

“If it’s too heavily dependent on a major user to finance it, it is inherently unstable,” said Faulkner. “My (bills) go nothing but up and they have gone nothing but up since I’ve lived here.”

Council member Francie Roberts was a member of the task force. She says its members did not come up with the new plan with any one particular user in mind.

“I don’t think the intention … was to punish anybody,” said Roberts. “I think they felt that the … pay-per-gallon-used system was the fairest one.”

The council introduced a resolution Monday that would implement the new rate structure. There will be another round of public testimony on the subject at the June 10 council meeting and the council could pass the resolution at that time.

At Monday’s meeting, the council also:

• Postponed a resolution that would make 10,000 square feet of land next to the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon available for lease by non-profit groups. The land is on the parcel
occupied by the Pier One Theatre. In recent weeks, the council has discussed using a portion of it as a space for the Kachemak Wooden Boat Society to set up a permanent home and as a launching point for the proposed Kachemak Bay Water Trail. Homer City Manager Walt Wrede is expected to make some minor changes to the resolution before it is reintroduced.

• Introduced the city’s new finance director, John Li, who takes over for the departed Regina Mauras.

• Declared June 6th as “Mary Epperson Day.”