By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Havre City Council's Water and Sewer Committee voted 4-0 Wednesday night to recommend a water rate increase of $2.15 per month and a sewer rate increase of $2.15 per month.
The committee recommended the changes go into effect on Dec. 1.
The City Council will vote on the issue on Monday.
The rate increase, a total of $4.30 per month, will make the city eligible for a $500,000 grant from the Treasure State Endowment Program to replace the main water line under First Street in 2006, said Annmarie Robinson, deputy director of Bear Paw Development Corp. The project is estimated to cost $629,465, not counting the work the Montana Department of Transportation will provide to dig up the street.
"It'd be a lot nicer to have the money be given to you than have the entire project on the backs of the water user," City Clerk Lowell Swenson told the committee.
Committee chair Dana West called the rate increase "kind of a no-brainer" and said she thought the increase was appropriate.
The city can become eligible for the competitive grants, awarded by the state Legislature every two years, only if the combined city water and sewer rates meet a target rate established by the state Department of Commerce based on the median household income in the community. Havre's rates are now below that rate.
The council must commit to raise rates before the May 7 grant application deadline, Robinson said.
The money raised from the increase will also help finance other improvements and repairs to the city's water and sewerage systems, said Havre public works director Dave Peterson.
On the water side, those projects include repairing booster stations and water tanks and water line replacement, Peterson 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.
Committee member Emily Mayer Lossing said it is the council's responsibility to keep up the city's infrastructure.
"This needs to happen if we're going to grow," she said.
The extra $4.30-per-month charge would raise about $194,000 per year. That money would be divided evenly between the water fund and the sewer fund, and the surplus would go into reserves at the end of each budget year, Peterson said.
"If they raise the rates, hopefully there'll be extra money in the reserve (by 2006) to do the project," Swenson said.
The council will meet at 8 p.m. Monday at City Hall. If it approves the rate increase, it will hold a public hearing and then officially notify ratepayers of the change.
If the rates are increased, the average water and sewer bill in Havre would be $51.68.