A.F. okays utility rate increase

Gives laundry break in water charges because of downtown revitalization

by Daniel Moore
Press staff writer

American Falls will see their water rates go up $2 starting in October. The American Falls City Council approved the increase at their meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 18, with little fanfare.

American Falls resident Gregory Huss was on hand, however, to question the increase, which could ultimately hurt those on fixed incomes, he said. While he did not say the council should not approve the increase, he wanted to point out those who would feel it the most , he said.

“I’m just trying to think of the people who can’t handle it,” he said.

Mayor Marc Beitia said the council had taken careful consideration the state of many of the people in the community before raising the rates. Huss said there needed to be a plan for those who could potentially have their water turned off. Beitia said they work with people all the time who are facing water turn off, and those nearing that situation should contact city hall.

Huss asked if it would be a better idea to have an incremental increase in the rates. Councilmember Norm Wright said the $2 increase was an incremental increase. The council was trying to avoid a large increase in the future, like occurred a few years back. That large of an increase could have been avoided had the council raised the rates incrementally like they are doing now, Wright said.

Councilmember Dan Hammond pointed out that American Falls rates are still less than similar sized towns in Idaho, and Councilmember Kathy Robertson added that they cannot continue to provide services without funding.

The residential rates will go from $29.50 to 30.50 for water, $39.00 to $39.75 for sewer, and $4.50 to $4.75 for garbage. The rates are different for businesses based on the type of business, but the increases should remain about the same on average.

The different prices charged to different businesses for water, sewer and garbage was highlighted at that same meeting by Pete Ramsey, who owns High Desert Laundry. Ramsey asked the council for a reduction in his water bill. Laundromats are charged a higher water and sewer bill, with the water bill being as much as six times higher than the average business water bill because the businesses are expected to use a lot more water. With the downtown construction going on, that has not been the case, Ramsey said. The construction has nearly put the laundromat out of business.

“We’re using more water flushing the toilet than we are doing laundry,” Ramsey said.

Since his business had dropped off substantially since the downtown construction began, and since he is not using the water he is being charged for in his opinion, Ramsey asked the council that he be charged the regular business rate for water for six months. He’s expecting that it will take up to a year to recover from the construction. Currently, High Desert Laundry is paying over $300 for water, sewer and garbage when the regular business rate is around $100 per month.

Robertson said that her biggest concern with granting the reduction in water rates was that they would set a precedent for giving other businesses the same reduction for the same reasons.

“I don’t know how we can do that and be fair,” Robertson said.

Councilmember Kristen Jensen said, after reading the request earlier, she went downtown and could see how carrying laundry into the business would be greatly hindered by the construction. She didn’t feel giving a reduction would be setting a precedent because a laundromat would be more affected by the construction than other businesses.

Wright said lowering the rate on one business would ultimately raise the rates for other businesses. However, Wright suggested a lower rate, but not the standard business rate, but at a rate charged beauty parlors and restaurants. Beauty parlors and restaurants also pay higher water rates, but not as high as laundromats.

Beitia suggested that the rate decrease, if there is one, only cover the time of the construction.

“Everybody’s in the same boat,” he said.

Ultimately, the council decided to reduce High Desert’s bill for five months, starting at the beginning of construction through November. The council reduced the rate from what’s normally charged to laundromats to what is charged beauty parlors and restaurants, less than $200 a month.

The council stopped discussing water rates after Ramsey’s request, but continued with water infrastructure. The city closed the bond for construction of the new wastewater construction plant early, saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in future interest payments, the mayor informed the council.

The council also discussed bids from the engineering firm Keller and Associates on the new wastewater treatment plant shop. The original bid came in well over the money they had budgeted for the project, Beitia said. After informing the engineering firm how much the city had budgeted for the project, the firm changed the bid to match the city budget.

Keller and Associates also made a presentation at the meeting for a proposed transportation plan. The plan, which was paid for from grant funds, examined every street in the city and rated it according to the pavement condition. The firm also gave suggestions for improvements to the streets, street by street.

The plan will be available in city hall when it is completed. The information will be used to help the city apply for grants for improvements, said Eric Haslander with Keller and Associates.

“When you are applying for funding, it helps if you have a plan,” he said.

Haslander said that 3.8 percent of the city streets rated excellent, 62.3 percent rated good, 24.6 percent rated fair and 9.3 percent rated poor. There are about two miles of unpaved roads within the city limits, he said.

The average future lifetime of an American Falls street is 12 years, he said, which is good, but the goal is to keep the average lifetime high. Recommended actions ranged from standard maintenance performed by the city crew, from seal coats and chip seal, to complete reconstruction for the roads.

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