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Advisory board to seek more public input on utility code updates

Posted: June 21, 2012 - 11:04pm

In the face of public objection to code changes that could raise utility rates on mobile home parks, the Juneau Utility Advisory Board unanimously voted Thursday to table the changes.

The changes being considered by the advisory board would switch mobile home parks from being on a flat residential service rate for their water and sewer utilities to being on a metered rate, which mobile home park operators at the meeting said would drive up monthly utility costs for their residents.

Chuck Cohen, general manager of Kodzoff Acres Mobile Home Park, said the city government has not been doing enough to reach out to mobile home park operators and residents.

“If you had contacted us six months ago and told us that you were going to increase the utility rates on 800 families living in mobile home parks by approximately $30 a month, then we might have come out here and talked to you about it,” Cohen told the board. “No one ever said anything to us about anything, nor notified those 800 families that are about ready to get their utility rates spiked.”

Under current code, mobile homes are, like other “single-family dwellings,” exempt from having their water services metered. The proposed changes would strike that exemption.

Proponents of such a change argue mobile home parks waste a disproportionate amount of water due to seepage, something Cohen said is not necessarily true.

“The water use differential is very, very small,” said Cohen. “Where the big kick comes is what the perceived loss of revenue is for sewer.”

Wayne Coogan, owner of Coogan Construction, told the board he manages about 200 mobile home units. He said he wants to find a solution that would be fair to mobile home residents who do not squander water.

“I would agree to meter the park and then meter each unit, and if there’s a loss, if there’s a (water) volume difference between two, I’ll pay the difference,” Coogan said. “Then each person should be responsible for their own consumption, just like they are in the neighborhoods, so that each person wouldn’t have to worry about the person down the street wasting water.”

Before the board heard comments from Cohen, Coogan and others, Kirk Duncan, director of the Public Works Department, also called for more public input before the board approved any code changes.

“I think that if this body refers the changes back to the Public Works and Facilities Committee, there will be … public discontent,” said Duncan. “I don’t like tabling anything, because it looks like we’re postponing, but I would like to table all changes.”

After acknowledging the public comments, the board unanimously carried a tabling motion. It also directed staff to solicit broad input for a request for proposal, which Duncan said is intended to determine “what the code should look like, what the rate structure should be and what the rate should be.”

“The Public Works staff is looking at how to secure a long-term public infrastructure plan,” said Duncan after the meeting, noting the complexity of the issues involved with updating the utility code. “Rather than try to solve one part of the puzzle, we’re willing to solve the entire puzzle.”

For his part, Cohen said he is concerned with making sure mobile home parks are not treated unfairly. He said he thinks the board did the right thing by holding off until the public has more time to weigh in.

“The real question that we had was one of equity and fairness. So these are the affordable houses, these are the poor people in the community, and why should they be burdened first?” Cohen asked rhetorically. “This particular classification of single-family residences ought not to be treated any differently than any of the others.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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