By Jim Schroeder
The Havre City Council approved proposed water and sewer rate increases Monday night after residents expressed their concerns about the changes.
Several people said the city should use the rate increase to pay for more repairs to aging water lines.
Water rates will go up 4 percent. The $9 monthly water service charge will increase to $9.36 and the $1.92 rate per 1,000 gallons will increase to $2.
City clerk Lowell Swenson said the increase will raise about $60,000 a year to finance improvements to the water system.
Sewer rates will go up 6 percent. The monthly service charge will increase from $6.43 a month to $6.82. Households and businesses will pay $1.60 for 1,000 gallons of water used, up from $1.51.
The new rate will generate about $50,000 a year, Swenson said. That money will be used to reduce the level of ammonia in the city's treated wastewater to meet new federal standards.
The new rates will take effect Dec. 1.
During a public hearing before the vote, Val Murri said his neighborhood has had many water main breaks over nearly 18 years and a high level of sediment in the water. Murri, who is the business manager for the Havre Daily News, lives on Eighth Avenue near Seventh Street.
Murri showed the council a dirty filter from his water filtration system. He added that he's replaced four water heaters since 1998.
"We're forced to pay for inferior water service," he said.
Murri said the replacement of the water main in his neighborhood should be a priority.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said he's heard similar complaints and promised to work with public works director Dave Peterson to repair or replace the water main in the area.
Peterson said the water main would become a priority for repairs or replacement in the spring of 2003.
Ron Brenna, owner of Havre Laundry, asked the City Council if the increase in water rates means the city would speed up repairs and replacements of old water lines.
"How long is it going to take?" he said.
Brenna said he pays an extra $6,000 a year because of the last water rate increase in 2000.
"We're going to have to do some creative budget financing," Rice told Brenna. "We're going to have to tighten our belt."
The City Council's Water and Sewer Committee, which recommended approval of the rate hikes, has said the water rate increase would be used to fund improvements to the water lines under First Street when the Montana Department of Transportation improves the highway several years from now.
But Rice said he will ask the state to allow the city to use state funding, now allocated for the proposed 12th Street loop, to replace the First Street water lines instead. That would free up more money for water line replacement or repair around the city, he said.
Rice and Peterson agreed at the hearing that there will be more increases in water and sewer rates within the next few years to repair and replace the city's infrastructure.