Wastewater rates on the rise

A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that there is also a price increase in the flat rate water. It should have said an increase in flat rate wasterwater (sewer). This article has been updated to reflect the change.

Sewage rates in Juneau will be rising starting in July. The question is: How many more increases will be happening thereafter?

The City and Borough of Juneau Committee of the Whole heard from the City’s Utility Advisory Board during its regular meeting at Assembly Chambers Monday, where a yearly increase of 2.5 percent in the residential wastewater rate through Fiscal Year 2024 was proposed.

“We expect there will be needed increases in the future,” UAB Chair Leon Vance said. “The goal was to minimize the increases over the next five years.”

The current monthly rates for the city’s wastewater (sewer) flat residential stands at $87.25 and the increase of 8 percent in July will bump it to $94.23. The increase will secure financial health to cover operating costs during this time period, according to the UAB report. No increase in water is being asked. However, after this time period it is unclear if there will be enough in the fund balance to support the utilities.

While the UAB approved making these changes, it did not come with a unanimous vote. Board members Kevin Buckland and Grant Ritter voted against the report. Buckland spoke about the minority report and is asking the Assembly to refrain from accepting the proposed increases of 2.5 percent for wastewater every year starting in Fiscal Year 2019 and going through FY 2024.

The minority report explains waiting for a year before going forward with the yearly increase will allow UAB and CBJ Public Works time to properly evaluate the city’s existing rate structure.

Increases in wastewater rates are fairly typical since 2003. The Assembly approved increases of 19 percent for water and 39 percent for wastewater that year. Yearly increases have been approved annually since then. The large initial increase in 2003 came after 12 years of no increases. Buckland believes if the increases continue, it will not only hurt residential customers, but harm the chances of business growth.

“Rates could be a deterrent to business investment,” Buckland said.

Buckland also suggested a tier system, which Assembly member Beth Weldon questioned. Weldon asked whether or not it would eventually cost business owners more than the projected increases submitted. Buckland said he was unsure exactly how it would play out.

“What I would like to see is a tier system where (customers) pay their fair share relative to the burden on the system,” Buckland said.

Assembly member Rob Edwardson then asked who Buckland thought was paying the correct amount.

“I guess what I am trying to figure out in my head is am I paying too little? Are you paying too little?” Edwardson asked.

Buckland suggested a rate study to help set up a fair system.

“Ultimately people should not complain if they are paying their fair share,” Buckland said.

No action was taken during the meeting. The Committee agreed to discuss the issue at a later date.

• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at gphilson@juneauempire.com or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.

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