West Jordan water rates back on the tableFeb 26, 2020 02:40PM ● By Erin Dixon
Finance director Danyce Steck presents alternative rate organization for West Jordan water use to Council chair Chris McConnehey and city council members. (Erin Dixon/Erin Dixon)
By Erin Dixon | [email protected]
Remember your water bill last summer? Was it higher than you expected? City staff and elected officials are continuing the water rate discussion.
In 2018, the West Jordan City Council approved two rate increases: 10% activated October 2018, and 33% in February 2019. If city officials had not raised the water rates, the city would have been in serious debt.
“[The 10% rate increase] was in direct response to our obligations to hold the bond,” Finance Director Danyce Steck said. “In June 2018, it looks like that debt service coverage ratio went below the threshold, and the city responded by immediately increasing rates.”
Council members and staff discussed in January in a pre-council meeting whether it was necessary to rearrange water fees after the many complaints they received from residents last summer.
“Last year I didn't hear any complaints until June when everybody started watering their lawns,” Councilmember Chad Lamb said. “I haven't heard a complaint for probably six months.”
Finance Director Danyce Steck presented alternative rate systems that would not necessarily be less but would change the base rate or the tiered rates depending on usage. Lowering the rates is out of the question.
“I don't want us to get where it’s not a solid fund,” Councilmember Kayleen Whitelock said. “Our weather is changing, we know that. But some years it seems to change differently than others. I don’t want us in a position where we’re at risk at not having enough money for the fund. I’m not comfortable putting the citizens in a risk.”
There were 287 main and service line breakages and repairs in 2019.
“In the short term, the city would have been able to make repairs,” Communications Officer Tauni Barker said. “However, with the number of repairs needed in the system, as well as the new volume required by growth, the water fund would have eroded to the point that the city may have had some tough choices about what to repair and when.”
Council Chair Chris McConnehey also said he was not worried about the price being too high but that one group might be paying for another group's water use.
“I’m not so concerned about the people who are complaining about the water rate being too high that are using large amounts,” he said. “My issue is this: Where the consumption, where 56% of that is on residential, but they’re paying for 71%. So residential is paying for more than they are using. Commercial is not paying for what they’re using.”
Barker confirmed that city staff and officials are working to improve the division of water rates.
“There was some imbalance to rate charges between residential, landscape and commercial rates,” Barker said. “The city council is in the process of approving a new rate structure that will be implemented in October 2020 or January 2021. The new rate structure will result in a decrease to the residential base rate and place greater emphasis on tiered rates, encouraging conservation.”
Councilmember Zach Jacob was concerned that while city officials want to encourage water-wise use, residents need to be more informed about this need.
“The education piece for the city going forward is, ‘Look, these rates are coming. Hot weather is coming. Plan now,’” Jacob said. “Let’s put notices in water bills or whatever we need to do as a communication plan going forward to make people aware that it’s coming.”
There will be resident communication in the near future.
“Beginning this spring, the city will be working to offer water-wise programming and conservation education to residents to help offset the challenges that come with purchasing water while living in the nation’s second-driest state,” Barker said.