Wrangell Assembly to Hold Public Hearing on Proposed 30% Water Rate Increase

Wrangell Wastewater Treatment Plant.
(Wise Smiley / KSTK)

The Wrangell Assembly is considering a 30% increase in the water rate. Elected leaders say they fear the community will not be able to meet its water infrastructure needs, even if households pay an extra $14 per month for water.

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As Wrangell prepares to install a new $15 million drinking water treatment plant, he must also shore up funds to cover the debt the community will take on.

Last month, Wrangell’s elected leaders approved a 21% rate increase for sewer rate – an increase of approximately $10 per month for a household. This sewer rate increase will be set next week (May 1).

But how much to increase the water tariffs became a sticking point for the assembly.

At the April 12 assembly meeting, assembly member Dave Powell said he did not want to do the bare minimum with a rate hike and would only raise rates enough to cover the $3.8 million federal loan the borough will take out to help fund the water plant. . Wrangell’s utility funds — called enterprise funds — are meant to be self-sustaining. Right now they are not. There is not enough money to cover all the projects.

“Here we’re stuck because we’ve never – as a city, as assemblies that were before us, the administration before us, never looked at the raises. And now we’re stuck here [raising rates]”Powell said.

For years, utility rates in Wrangell haven’t kept up with the rising cost of everything else. Powell therefore proposed a 30% increase in the water rate, or just over $14 more on a household’s water bill each month.

“We’ve been pushing this down the road since I’ve been in the assembly and asking for a one-penny, two-penny raise,” Powell said. “I know it’s going to hurt everyone. I don’t like to see rates go up. But our rates haven’t gone up. We’ve done rate studies, we’ve done all kinds of things, and here we’re trying to do ‘status quo’ on a loan and not go anywhere else. And I’m sorry, people might be mad at me for that, but it’s just not a good deal.

Wrangell needs to save money for other water-related projects beyond the water treatment plant, such as replacing water pipes, Powell said. Mayor Steve Prysunka agreed. Additionally, the mayor said many in the community have enjoyed below-average rates for decades.

“I haven’t had any bill increases for 25 years, basically, so I had the benefit of saving that money,” Prysunka said. “That’s where I come from – I was able to save money on my water bill and on my electric bills and all those bills for 25 years.”

Powell also told his fellow Assembly members that he wanted the government to be more responsible for assessing rates each year.

“We have to be responsible enough to watch it – or the next assembly – be responsible and listen to the people here who are sitting in this audience saying, ‘Hey, we have to raise the tariffs to get to where we [need to be]Powell said, “And right now they’re telling us that and if you ask me, I don’t feel like we’re listening to our company funds.

Assemblyman Patty Gilbert expressed concern about the general financial climate for residents with rising interest rates and other recent rate increases.

“I feel for the community because we not only need to look at the health of our company’s funds, but we also need to look at the health of our community’s financial climate,” Gilbert said.

If water rates are going to increase 30%, Gilbert said, something else should give, or at least be increased at a lower rate year over year.

“The only thing the taxpayer can change in their household is their electricity usage, all of these other rates are fixed,” Gilbert explained. “And I don’t know what the average property tax increase was. […] But I’m only concerned about the economic situation of the community. I really feel for some households.

The borough’s chief financial officer, Mason Villarma, told KSTK in an interview that regardless of the rate increase approved by the assembly, one conclusion is that the government and administration must annually review the health of community self-sustaining utility funds.

“I think the main key here is that whatever happens, the rates have to be settled every year, so it’s not a shock, and there’s no ‘band-aid scam’ for the community. “Villarma said. .

From the finance department’s perspective, if the borough assembly passes a 30% rate increase on Tuesday (April 26), Villarma says it will model future rate increases that are much smaller — just to track inflation, basically, “Until I have another indication or a better reason that a member of the assembly gives us to project ourselves otherwise,” Villarma continues. “So I think it can generally be the community’s point of view on things.”

Villarma says all of the recent rate increases, code changes and investment policy updates are intended to put Wrangell on a stronger footing for future planning.

“If one of our corporate funds is not profitable, that doesn’t make my job very easy because I can’t really model negative profit, and [say] “Here are the expenses that we are going to tackle in the future,” says Villarma. “[These rate increases give] we have the tools to say, ‘Okay, we have a plan, our plan is to be profitable, our plan is to invest in the community, so here’s how it’s going to be.’

With this financial clarity, Villarma says the assembly, borough director and department heads will be able to run the borough more efficiently, with a long-term plan. Villarma says he hopes community members see the rate increases as an investment in the community’s financial future for years to come.

The Wrangell Assembly will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday (April 26) on the proposed rate increase. Sign up to speak at the meeting on the sign-up sheet at Town Hall. Letters can also be submitted in person at City Hall or by email to [email protected]

Contact KSTK at [email protected] or (907) 874-2345.

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