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Borough moving to meter water use

 


Haines Borough officials are considering major changes to the borough’s water and sewer code, including a provision requiring all residences built after Jan. 1 to be metered.

The assembly last month introduced the comprehensive ordinance, which would also eliminate the borough’s “vacated” utility rate. The policy allows residents going out of town or on vacation to receive a reduced rate on their water and sewer bills during absences.

Chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart said she has been working with public facilities director Carlos Jimenez and water and sewer operator Scott Bradford on the ordinance. Last fall, when the assembly met to discuss an increase in rates, the desire to move toward an all-metered system also emerged, Stuart said.

Currently, only businesses and commercial residential buildings like apartment complexes are required to have a meter for measuring consumption. The borough bases charges on volumes used.

All other buildings – every residence minus about 60 homes in the Piedad Road area – are charged a flat rate, regardless of how much water they use.

“Sometimes people complain, ‘Oh, a family of 10 pays the same amount for water as I do, and I’m a little old lady who takes one bath a week.’ So is that fair?” Stuart said.

“It’s a tough one.”

If passed, the ordinance would require all residences built after Jan. 1 to install meters, but that would be only one step toward a completely metered system. Homeowners also would be required to pay a one-time “rental” fee, equal to the cost of the meter, when it is installed. (The borough would retain ownership of the meter.)

Universal metering has its downsides, Stuart said. For one, it’s expensive to send someone out and check meters every month. Then, there are the people who will constantly dispute their bills.

“I’m guessing we are going to have at least a half-dozen people every month outraged and disbelieving that they could have used that much (water),” Stuart said.

If implemented, meters could bring in more revenue, public facilities director Jimenez pointed out. “It could be more funds to the borough through people going over their meter rate, their allotted amount,” he said.

The proposed ordinance also would eliminate the “vacated” rate, which allows customers to pay a reduced rate on their utilities when they are out of town or not living in the residence for extended periods of time. Stuart said the policy is “fairly unique,” and she hasn’t bumped into many other municipalities that have such an option during her research.

“We kind of want to get rid of that because it’s on an honor system and we have no way of verifying if they really aren’t there unless they are metered, which very few (customers) are,” she said.

The ordinance also would create a mechanism for property owners who pay to extend a water or sewer main down a street to be reimbursed by neighbors who hook up to the main during the ensuing 20 years.

For example, if a property owner pays installing a water main past four properties, owners of the four lots would have to pay the property owner back a proportionate share if they connectrf to the main within 20 years.

Another addition in the ordinance would allow the borough to record a lien for unpaid water and sewer fees to allow for easier collection. In the case of a foreclosed property with unpaid utility bills, unpaid bills would be tacked onto the property and become the responsibility of the foreclosing bank.

The Haines Borough’s Government Affairs and Services Committee will consider the ordinance 6 p.m. Dec. 3 and forward its comments for the assembly to take up at its Dec. 10 meeting.