Water and wastewater utility rates for residents and businesses will increase each year beginning Jan. 1 to help the city foot the bill for millions in long-needed infrastructure improvements.
The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly adopted an ordinance increasing the utility service rates at the end of June. Water utility fees will increase by 6.5 percent and sewer utility fees by 8 percent when the year ends. They’ll continue to increase by 6.5 and 8 percent, respectively, every July through 2018.
Most Juneau residents — more than 70 percent — pay a flat rate for water and wastewater service, Public Works director Kirk Duncan said. Right now, that’s $90.53 per month for both utilities combined; by the end of the rate increase schedule in 2018, that bill will be $130.40 per household.
The increase will help fund about $73 million in water and wastewater infrastructure improvements. These include drilling two new wells to increase Juneau’s drinking water supply, a $5.5 million microfiltration system for Salmon Creek and a new $1 million water main along Egan Drive between 10th and Main streets, Duncan previously told the Empire. A full list of Public Works’ upcoming projects can be found online at www.juneauratestudy.com.
Four people spoke on the ordinance during the public comment period at the June 30 assembly meeting, according to meeting minutes. Alaskan Brewing Co. President Geoff Larson talked about the impact of the increases on his business, which is one of the largest water rate payers in Juneau. Larson said a long-term plan of city rate increases would be more manageable and predictable when putting together the company’s budget.
The ordinance initially considered by the Assembly dictated a 9.5 percent increase for both utilities for fiscal years 2015, 2016 and 2017. After public comment was heard, Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl made a motion to amend the ordinance to lengthen the schedule but cut down the increases. This way, the rates would be raised more gradually and wouldn’t make such an impact on home and business owners’ pocketbooks, he said.
The ordinance was passed as amended with Mayor Merrill Sanford and Assemblywoman Mary Becker voting against. Sanford said before voting that the ordinance is “balancing ... on the back of the people” and he would prefer increases of 3 percent for both utilities.
Assemblywoman Kate Troll made a motion to begin the increase Jan. 1, rather than the Sept. 1, 2014, which was written into the original ordinance. This was also passed, with Sanford, Becker and Assemblyman Randy Wanamaker voting against.
Public Works director Kirk Duncan said after the meeting that changing the fee increase schedule and waiting until Jan. 1 to begin raising rates won’t impact the plan in the long term. The first year of the rate increase, if started in September, was expected to add $1.2 million to the department for improvements; with the increase beginning in January, it will bring in about $600,000, he said.
“Over the course of $73 million in projects to lose half a million we’ll make it up somewhere else,” Duncan said.
The ordinance comes months after a water rate study by an outside company and Assembly and committee meetings on the topic. This won’t be the final time the Assembly will see water and wastewater rates cross their desks. Duncan said in the next year or two, he’ll work with the Assembly again on future increases.
“We’ll go back to the Assembly and start talking about what happens in the next five years,” he said.
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.