B&Bs stung by utility-fee hike

Some halt meter installation, others say cost will kill business

Posted: Monday, January 17, 2005

Water is essential to make Juneau's Pearson's Pond one of the most romantic places in the world. A MSN.com poll recently ranked it the fourth-best bed and breakfast. The B&B, tucked in the Mendenhall Valley, boasts 60 flower baskets, two outdoor hot tubs, two double Jacuzzis and a single Jacuzzi.

With a rate increase in water and wastewater that came into effect on Dec. 1, 2003, it will be much more expensive to keep the place exuberant.

During the past 15 years, Diane Pearson, owner of Pearson's Pond, has had to pay a flat rate for unlimited use of water and wastewater, as owners of any single-family houses do.

In the fall of 2003, the city classified B&B, duplexes and accessory apartments as metered residential users. They are now required to pay a flat user fee of $15.47 for the first 4,000 gallons of water used and $2.08 per 1,000 gallons. They will pay $54.91 for the first 4,000 gallons of wastewater processed and $7.30 per 1,000 gallons.

To impose the new structure, the city needs to install meters in the 664 properties that were reclassified. But it has faced strong resistance from many of Juneau's 40 B&B owners.

"This means a 215 to 770 percent increase in my water and wastewater bill," Pearson said. "My business is not going to sustain the increase."

So far, only 20 percent of the new meters have been installed, said Public Works Director Joe Buck.

Buck said if metered residential users use less water, they pay less. Flat rate residential users pay $22.61 per month, while metered residential users pay $15.47 a month for the first 4,000 gallons of water. Users of all classes pay a flat $54.91 for wastewater.

Buck is asking the Assembly to give him some enforcement power so owners who refuse to let city staff install meters in their properties would be fined.

Pearson said the benchmark of 4,000 gallons is too low.

"The American Water Works Association estimates about 12,220 gallons per household per month," Pearson said. "Typical household usage is far greater than the 4,000 gallon threshold assigned by the city to metered residents."

At peak season between June and August, Pearson's Pond is entertaining about 10 guests.

Buck said the city eventually plans to meter every class of users in Juneau.

"We believe that will encourage conservation," he said. "People would use less water and we would have less waste water to process."

Buck said the tough task is to find the $4.5 million to install meters in Juneau's 7,000 customers.

Dale Anderson, owner of Auke Lake Bed and Breakfast, said this is an issue of equality.

"A typical family of four uses between 15,000 and 23,000 gallons of water and wastewater per month, and my family will only receive 4,000 gallons before I will have to start paying over $9 per 1,000 gallons used," he said.

"Why should my family lose the privilege of having the same as our neighbor just because we have decided to operate the business in our home?" he asked.

Buck said it is indeed an issue of equality. "These B&Bs are competing with hotels. Some of them have five hot tubs in their property," he said. "Why shouldn't they pay more than an average single-family household?"

Buck said he would meet B&B representatives to understand their concerns.

Some B&B owners are considering closing their business, but Pearson, looking at the lodge she had designed herself, said she would fight to keep her B&B open.

"We put a lot of investments in this place," Pearson said. "We couldn't just close the door."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.

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