Water, wastewater rates will climb under proposal

2014-04-21T21:51:00Z 2014-04-22T10:15:07Z Water, wastewater rates will climb under proposalBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Water and wastewater rates will go up under a plan discussed by the Billings City Council Monday.

Council took no action on the increases, but will hold a public hearing on the proposal during a Tuesday, May 27 meeting (Monday, May 26 is Memorial Day).

Jennifer Duray, finance manager for the city’s public works department, presented two alternate rate scenarios, each of which would produce about $9.8 million in annual revenue.

The second alternative, which is endorsed by city staff, includes a modest increase for residents who use 14 or fewer CCF per month, a measurement of 100 cubic feet of water, or 748 gallons. Those who use the most water — 101 or more CCF per month — would see the steepest increase, and would pay the highest rate, $5.18 per CCF, because they place peak demand on the city’s water system.

Both proposals include four tiers of ratepayers. Duray said Tier 1 users consume water only indoors. Tier 2 users employ “prudent watering,” placing no more than 1.5 inches of water per week on their lawn.

Tier 3 users employ “excessive” watering practices, while Tier 4 use is defined as “wasteful” water use.

The vast majority of Billings residents are Tier 1 or Tier 2 water consumers, she said.

Wastewater rates would go up slightly. If the city council adopts the preferred alternative, the average monthly bill would be $63.39, an increase of $3.69 over the current average monthly bill.

That is less than ratepayers pay in Helena, Missoula, Kalispell and Bozeman, but more than Great Falls residents, who pay an average of $52.01 monthly currently.

The city will be sending out about 34,000 letters to affected ratepayers, Duray said.

The increases are needed, according to council member Rich McFadden, because of increasingly strict nitrogen and phosphorous control standards required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Zimmerman Trail

Armed with an array of photos depicting seven potential problem spots along the closed portion of Zimmerman Trail, city engineer Debi Meling said that city officials still hope to reopen the road, closed last month because of a rock slide, in late June.

Work to stabilize some rock and remove other portions is estimated to cost $1 million-$2 million, she said. That work should be completed in early June, with guardrail and road surface restoration work slated for later in the month.

“If there is a silver lining to all this, it’s that the project would have been completed in September, and we would have had to have closed the road then,” and the work probably would have cost more money at that time, Meling said.

Some sections have vertical fractures, while others are cleaved horizontally. One section, at the eastern stretch of the closed roadway, will have rock stabilized using rock bolts. Netting similar to the nets along the Beartooth Highway — “only not so industrial,” Meling said — also be used.

The local match for the Zimmerman Trail project is $1.5 million, with federal funding at an additional $7.7 million.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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