By Jim Schroeder
Havre residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinions on a proposed 4 percent water rate increase and a proposed 6 percent sewer rate increase at a public hearing tonight at 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers.
The City Council will then vote on the proposed increases during its 8 p.m. meeting.
If the City Council adopts the proposed rate increases, the $9 monthly water service charge will increase to $9.36 a month and the $1.92 rate per 1,000 gallons will increase to $2 per 1,000 gallons, city clerk Lowell Swenson said today.
The proposed sewer rate will increase the monthly service charge from $6.43 a month to $6.82 and the $1.51 rate per 1,000 gallons of water used to $1.60 per 1,000 gallons of water used, Swenson said.
The sewer bills are based on the average water use over four winter months in each household and business.
The City Council's Water and Sewer Committee chair, Emily Mayer Lossing, said the committee recommended the rate increases to the City Council based on recommendations from city public works director Dave Peterson. Peterson told the committee that the increases are needed because of improvements that must be made to old water mains on First Street and because of more stringent federal regulation of the amount of ammonia in treated sewer water.
"We realize people are on a fixed income," Mayer Lossing said. "But we can spend a few dollars now making the necessary upgrades or we can spend millions down the road."
Mayer Lossing said the money made from the 4 percent increase in water rates will be used solely to replace the water mains on First Street while the Montana Department of Transportation makes improvements to the highway in about 2006.
Mayer Lossing said the main reason for the 6 percent increase in sewer rates is the high level of ammonia in the city's treated wastewater. With more stringent federal guidelines soon to be in effect, it will be less expensive to pay an increased sewer rate than to pay federal fines, she said.
The money made from the 6 percent increase in sewer rates will be used to filter out ammonia so that the city's treated wastewater falls within the federal guidelines, Mayer Lossing said.
According to Swenson, the last water rate increase was 15 percent in 2000.
The last sewer increase was in 1998 and amounted to 62 percent. The monthly service charge went from $3.97 to $6.43 a month and the rate increased from 93 cents per 1,000 gallons of water used to $1.51 per 1,000 gallons of water.