On Jan. 2, the Mineral County Board of County Commissioners voted to increase water rates for customers in Hawthorne, Mina and Luning. Fees in Mina and Luning will increase by $6.38 — 23 percent. Customers in Hawthorne will see their bills increase by 75 cents each month, 5 percent of the total bill.
In total, Mina and Luning residents will be on the hook for $34.11 every month; and Hawthorne residents will pay $15.80 for water each month.
Hawthorne customers will also pay 35 cents more each month for sewer usage, up to $1.50. But, despite the utility’s recommendation, and the urging of Anna Fitzgerald, Hawthorne Utilities office manager, the board did not increase the garbage rates by the recommended 25 cents.
Customers will pay the new rates for the first time on Aug. 1.
Hawthorne will experience slightly smaller increases, with rates rising only 1 percent each year; to $16.61 by 2017.
The rate hike will offset years of undercharging customers, Fitzgerald said.
Support for the increases was not unanimous.
The motion to approve the increases was made by Cliff Cichowlaz, vice chair of the board, and seconded by Jerri Tipton, chairwoman of the board.
Paul MacBeth, commissioner, voted against each of the motions to increase the fees.
“I didn’t think it was in the best interest of Mineral County to be paying any more for water,” MacBeth said in a later phone interview. “I’m just opposed to any more increases. We need to manage our money a little bit better and figure it out long term rather than just put a short term fix on things.”
The cutoff for low income discounts will also increase 25 percent, with the unanimous support of the board.
For one person, the monthly income cutoff for the discount will increase to $687.50; for two people it will increase to $812.50; and for a family the cutoff will increase to $1,000.
A Hawthorn Utilities flyer distributed at the hearing shows the increase is the first since the 2007-2008 fiscal year. It also claims the “lack of smaller more frequent rate increases result in major increases in order to make up for lost revenues over time.”
The flyer’s claims were backed up by Fitzgerald, who argued in favor of the rate increase to the commissioners.
“This is going to be the big year with the big jump, so after this one’s over we’re going to be doing smaller more frequent increases.” she said.
The more consistent and steady increases will be especially apparent in Mina and Luning, which will see a 2 percent increase in water rates each year until 2017, if the board follows the utility’s plan.
The plan calls for water rates to increase to $36.92 each month by 2017.
The rates are different in each town because of a federal law requiring each town to maintain its own water and sewer accounts, but also to prevent residents of one town from paying the higher costs of another.