Havre Daily News
The engineering firm hired by a group working to bring a rural water system to north-central Montana has proposed a change in the way water users' bills would be calculated, and a company official said Tuesday that those changes affect how much money Havre residents would pay each month if the city decides to join the proposed distribution system.
Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson client manager Joe Dooling said city officials and the public will be able to learn the new projected costs for Havre users at a public hearing set for May 16. He would not disclose the new cost estimates. Havre city officials have been discussing whether to connect to the proposed Rocky Boy's/North Central Montana Regional Water System for about a year. The city had opted out of the proposed project before members of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce brought the issue back to the Havre City Council.
The system, estimated to cost at least $275 million, when completed will bring treated water from Lake Elwell to thousands of residents across north-central Montana and on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. Construction on the water intake at Tiber Dam is set to begin later this year.
In an interview from Helena, Dooling said new estimates exist for two types of user charges: a flat monthly fee collected to repay construction loans, and the per-1,000-gallon rate water would be sold at when the system is constructed.
He said a new formula, which uses peak daily water demand numbers - plus projections for population growth - to determine costs for each of the towns and water districts that are considering joining the system, was developed for the sake of fairness. Each system's costs will be different, he added.
“That's really the only fair way,” Dooling said.
Under the formula that hadbeen used to calculate costs, each user would be charged the same flat rate, regardless of use. The formula didn't take into account the fact that each system has differing definitions of what a user is, Bear Paw Development Corp. deputy director Annmarie Robinson said Tuesday.
In some water systems, each “user” could refer to a unit consisting of more than one household, said Robinson, who serves as project coordinator for the North Central Montana Regional Water Authority, which is made up of the nontribal communities that will soon decide whether to commit to the system.
Water authority members have said each community likely will be asked to make its decision this summer.
The new cost formula seems fairer than the old, Robinson said.
“We would bill a system and they would turn around and figure out how they were going to bill their users,” she said.
Dooling said the old cost estimates - with water priced at 69 cents per 1,000 gallons and the monthly rate set at about $11.50 per user - are no longer accurate.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said he wants to hold a second public hearing, after the meeting set for 7 p.m. on May 16 at City Hall, to “hash out how the public feels” about the city joining the proposed water system.
“I don't know where we're at ... until those (costs) are brought forward and put on the table,” he added.
Dooling said the system will offer cheap water to users, irrigators and industrial interests. When it's up and running, the system will be a boon to the economy for decades to come, because towns will be able to market themselves - using their abundant supply of water - to companies looking to move, he said.
“Twenty years from now, we're going to say the key to economic development was this regional water project,” Dooling said. “This is the start of a big thing that is coming.”