By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Havre City Council on Monday unanimously voted to move forward with the process to raise water and sewer rates by an average of $4.30 per month.
The rate increases are tentatively scheduled to go into effect Dec. 1. By law, before an increase can go into effect, the city must hold a public hearing, notify all ratepayers by mail, and the council must vote a final time on the increase, City Clerk Lowell Swenson said today.
City Council member Dana West, who chairs the council's Water and Sewer Committee, told the council before the vote that the increase would allow the city to apply for a $500,000 grant from the Treasure State Endowment Program to replace an aging water line under First Street in 2006. To be eligible for the TSEP grant, the city must indicate its intention to raise its water and sewer rates to meet a target rate set by the state Department of Commerce.
The increase will also pay for other needed improvements in the city's water and sewerage systems, West said.
"Basically if the ratepayers in Havre don't have to pay that $500,000 that we can get in this grant, then that increase in water and sewer rates can go toward those (other) infrastructure improvements. If not, then we'll spend all that money just paying for that water line replacement," she told the council before the vote.
The project to replace the water line under First Street is estimated to cost $629,465, not counting the work the Montana Department of Transportation will provide to dig up the street.
The council voted 8-0 in favor of the rate increase.
The $4.30 increase would apply to a typical Havre household, which uses 10,000 gallons of water a month and an average of 7,000 gallons during three winter months. The sewer bill is based on the average of three months of water use during winter, when people aren't watering lawns and most water ends up in the sewerage system.
For a household using that much water, the monthly water and sewer bill would increase from $47.38 to $51.65. The actual increase households pay will vary from household to household and month to month, Swenson said.
Monday's vote came after the council's Water and Sewer Committee voted 4-0 Wednesday to recommend the rate increases.
The TSEP grant application is due Friday, and requires a commitment by the council to raise water and sewer rates to meet the target rate.
The council also voted 8-0 Monday night to submit the TSEP grant application.
"If we do not get this TSEP grant, then we will have to use reserve funds or raise water rates at an alternate date," Havre Mayor Bob Rice told the council Monday.
Havre public works director Dave Peterson said previously that even if Havre is not awarded the grant, there are enough upcoming projects to justify the rate increases.
On the water side, those projects include repairing booster stations and water tanks and water line replacement, he said.
On the sewerage side, upcoming projects include several expensive improvements to the wastewater treatment plant, including replacing a bar screen for $150,000 and a grit pump system for $60,000, said plant superintendent Kristi Kline.
A public hearing on the TSEP application was attended by five people.
In other business Monday night:
The council picked a proposal to build a $2.8 million Head Start facility as its Community Development Block Grant project for this year. The application for the federal grant, which is administered by the Montana Department of Commerce, must be sponsored by a government entity. The city will not have to pay any money for the project. No other eligible projects were proposed this year.
The council voted 8-0 to approve a Fourth of July parade in Havre. The parade will follow the same route as the annual Festival Days Parade, moving north on Fifth Avenue and turning west onto First Street. The parade must be held on state highways or else the city would have to pay liability insurance, Havre Mayor Bob Rice told the council before the vote.
A vote on a one-year lease of the city-owned Heritage Center by the H. Earl Clack Foundation was postponed. Foundation president Elaine Morse said items in the contract need to be clarified. Morse, City Attorney Jim Kaze and City Council member Tom Farnham, who chairs the council's Finance Committee, said they will meet to try to reach an agreement.
The Ordinance Committee will meet May 10 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss a proposed amendment to the city's water ordinance governing water termination policy and reconnection fees, and also to discuss a change of city policy to reflect current practice regarding tenure for department heads.
The Labor Relations Committee will meet May 10 at 6:30 p.m. for continuing contract negotiations with the union representing Havre police officers.
The Park and Recreation Committee will meet May 17 at 7 p.m. to discuss a proposed closure of 11th Avenue in front of Legion Field during baseball tournaments.
The Streets and Sidewalks Committee will meet May 17 at 7:30 p.m. to discuss installing signs alerting motorists about children at play in the residential area north of Havre High School and south of Glo-Ed.
The committees meet in City Hall.