Susan McDaniel Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The Havre City Council held a public hearing on the proposed rate increase for water service for the city of Havre on Monday in City Hall. Although all water users received notice of the meeting along with their bills, only about 13 people sat in the audience. “It’s a controversal issue I was hoping we would have more people here and maybe some more council members here,” Mayor Bob Rice said. “Maybe they will show up as we go.” The new rates for water service charges will become effective beginning with the Dec. 1 bill. A base rate of $30 per month will be charged each user. The base rate increases as the meter size increases, so that larger users will pay a progressively larger amount. This fee includes the first three thousand gallons of water used. For each additional 1,000 gallons of water used each month during the months of October-May there will be a charge of $2.15. This is the same amount charged now for one thousand gallons of water. There will be a charge of $2 per 1,000 gallons each month during the months of June through September. This is a decrease of 15 cents per thousand gallons. Private fire lines will cost $20 per month and water meter accuracy tests will have a fee of $25. Any cost of living changes will be looked at on a yearly basis because any time there is a rate change it has to go through the public hearing process. A main concern expressed during the public questioning period centered on what Tony Dolphay owner of Havre Muffler & Brake said, that “those of us who conserve water are being penalized” under the new system. A couple of residents expressed frustration that low- and fixed-income residents would have difficulty with paying the increase. “I don’t use 1,000 gallons each month, but the way I understand it, I am going to be charged for 3,000 gallons no matter what,” Joann Bender said. “Everything is going up, our heating is going up, why should the water go up that much?” Essie St. Dennis voiced her concern about the impact on senior citizens in particular. “I work with senior citizens every day,” St. Dennis said, “and don’t think that the council knows what it’s like to live on minimum wages or fixed Amounts each month.” Pam Hillery, chair of the Water and Sewer Committee, said the committee had little choice because of deteriorating conditions of Havre’s water delivery system. “This was the least oppressive amount we could come up with,” Hillery said. “Unfortunately it’s not just, but we are fixing longstanding infrastructure neglected tremendously by previous councils.” Councilmember Jerry Veis said that “previous councils have passed the buck over the years.” “Is it fair to us?” he asked. “Absolutely not.” Mayor Rice said he understands that rate increases are hard on seniors and that it is not easy to justify a rate increase. Even his own mother questions why he is doing it, he said. The city water services are operated as an Enterprise Fund that has to be self-supporting and not operating at a loss. Because of unexpected costs, the department lost $256,784 last year. Part of the money collected will be put in a reserve fund to pay for emergencies plus infrastructure repairs in future years. “It’s a Catch-22; we try to fix it now or when everything collapses,” council member Terry Schend said. “Some infrastructure is 100 years old. If we had made these increases over the last 10 years it wouldn’t seem so large now.” All council members expressed regret with having to vote in the increase, but they stood together in acknowledging the need for it.