What do sewer bills pay for?

News-Herald Photo/Michael Hays A construction worker scales a ladder near the London Bridge and Willow Wash pump stations. Crews worked in 2007 preparing to install a pipe beneath a portion of Bridgewater Channel in an effort to allow sewage to travel to either the Island Treatment Plant or the North Regional Treatment Plant.

A little more than 30 Lake Havasu City residents were at the Community Center on Friday to learn more about proposed changes to the city’s water and sewer rates.

The city and consultant Willdan Financial Services gave a couple presentations throughout the afternoon to help citizens understand both the need for changes to water and sewer rates in the city, and what those changes might look like. The consultants also presented two options for how the city could set up its rate structure to pay for water services, and two options to pay for sewer - while providing in depth snapshots of how bills for various residents and businesses would look under the different proposals.

“It is a non-profit system,” said City Manager Jess Knudson. “So we are trying to match up the cost of providing the service with the rates.”

The presentation and question and answer sessions were recorded by the city. Assistant to the City Manager Anthony Kozlowski, who is serving as the project manager for the utility rate study, said the video will be posted to the city’s Facebook page, and the city’s website at lhcaz.gov early next week for residents who were unable to attend on Friday.

Willdan consultant Kevin Burnett said the utility rate study found that Havasu will need to generate about $7 million more annually to pay for its water system over the next few years. Meanwhile, consultant Pat Walker said the sewer system will need to produce about $3 million more annually in order to break even.

Most of the shortfall in the water system is a result of the Irrigation and Drainage District’s planned sunset on July 1, 2022. The IDD currently provides $5.7 million through a property tax assessment that is used to supplement the water system in the city.

“With the implementation of this and the expiration of the IDD our citizens will be seeing a property tax savings, but they will be paying a little bit more each month to offset that so the system can continue to operate,” said Mayor Cal Sheehy.

Lake Havasu City resident Cory Bodman said he is currently paying $134 a year into the IDD, so while his utility bills may be going up in the near future at least some of that will be offset by paying less in taxes.

Bodman said he attended the information session on Friday because he read about the potential increases in the newspaper and wanted to get more information about how it will affect him and his wife. He said he still isn’t sure exactly how much he would pay under the various options presented, but after the meeting he said he is confident that he has all the information he needs to find out.

“We will have to look at the water bill the next time it comes through, or I could look up an old one and go from there,” Bodman said. “My wife and I keep an eye on our finances. We are both retired, so we want to make sure that we have enough money set aside to pay our bills.”

City officials have said they want to get as much public feedback as possible. But like Bodman, most of the citizens who showed up on Friday had more questions than stated preferences.

Lots of questions pertained to the history of the IDD and why it is going away rather than being replaced. Citizens also asked about the bonding and debt that was issued for the sewer system years ago, reserve policies, and how new developments factor into water and sewer systems.

Sheehy noted that the city has been talking about how to replace funding from the IDD for several years, and said he is happy with the options Willdan presented to get that done.

“I think that the solutions that were provided with - option a and option b - provide a very cost effective solution for our citizens going forward to maintain the system,” he said.

The water and sewer rates will now go back to the City Council at its March 9 meeting for discussion about the various options. There the council will adopt a notice of intent and set a public hearing for May 11.

If the council adopts the new rates in May, they would go into effect at the beginning of next fiscal year on July 1.

Councilmember David Lane said it was good to be able to hear thoughts and questions from several citizens on Friday, but he is hoping that more residents reach out in the weeks and months ahead.

“There were 30 people out of 55,000 (full time residents),” Lane said. “Do those people speak for all 55,000? No. But this will be going to council in May, so please give us feedback - reach out to your elected officials and tell them what your thoughts are. That is what we want.”

Knudson said citizens can reach out to the city by email, phone, or in person at City Hall to give their thoughts or ask questions. Emails should be sent to Kozlowski at kozlowskia@lhcaz.gov.

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