By Ross Markman
As a way to help defray the cost of several upcoming infrastructure projects, Havre Mayor Bob Rice will propose an increase in residential water bills at tonight's City Council meeting.
The meeting will start at 8 p.m. at City Hall.
"I don't like things to go for too long and you have to ask for an increase for $3 or $4 a month," Rice said this morning. "We haven't had an increase, I think, in five years."
Rice said he'll recommend to the council a hike of about 50 cents a month for the city's 3,500 water customers. The current water rate is $1.92 per 1,000 gallons, and each bill includes a $10.96 monthly service fee. The increase would be tacked on to the service charge, Rice said.
The money would go toward replacing water lines when the Montana Department of Transportation makes improvements to First Street in about 2006, as well as another water line project on Havre's east end.
"(First Street) is a substantial, big project. We still have time to raise the money," Rice said. "And if we're going to dig up the street, this is the time to do it."
If the council does not approve the increase, Rice said, he'll likely pursue a loan. Regardless, he said, the city will apply for a grant to help fund the projects.
"We have some major undertakings that are coming to play. And we don't have any money to support them," Rice said.
"The money has got to come from somewhere," he added. "I think if I present it to them and tell them what the money will be used for I think they know something has to to take place. They're not stupid."
Following tonight's meeting, Rice's recommendation will go to the water and sewer committee for discussion, after which it will return to the council for consideration.
"There may be some opposition from certain people, but we have to look at the infrastructure and what we're going to do about it," said Rick Pierson, council president and member of the water and sewer committee.
Before the council can approve the increase, a pair of public hearings must be held.
"The overall spectrum of the public is going to depend on what the need for the increase is," Pierson said. "And I need to see what Bob's intentions are and the reasoning behind it before I can make any kind of decision. We just need to see what the purpose is."
Rice's proposal comes less than two weeks after the Havre Department of Public Works imposed a citywide restriction, limiting lawn watering to nights and evenings on alternate days.
"It's a conservation effort. People are thinking we're restricting water use, but we're not," Rice said. "We're trying to be conservative here. We're trying to put the horse before the cart."