Hawthorne Water System, Sewer Operations, Garbage Department and the Mina/Luning Water Systems met to propose a rate increase.
Hawthorne Utilities Director Larry Grant explained to the Mineral County Commissioners on Jan. 7 that this is the annual talk given to the commissioners each year, as stated in the ordinance. This hearing is held 30 days after the release of the annual Mineral County audit.
“As we have done for the last few years, we are asking for very small incremental increases. Rather than coming in every four to five years with a $2 jump, we feel it is better and a lot less impactful to the community to come in and ask for these small one percent increases,” Grant told the commissioners.
Commissioner Garth Price asked, “Off the top of your head, how many times have you been asking for the small increases?”
“Since 2014,” Grant responded.
Hawthorne Utilities office manager Ana Fitzgerald started by addressing the Mina/Luning water system. She explained that in 2014/2015 when it was highly recommended by the financial status report that the utility system “had” to raise the rates by 34 percent increase to cover expenses without depreciation and a 93 percent increase to cover depreciation.
“As everyone knows, there is no way we will ever cover depreciation so we just looked at operations only. We did a 23 percent increase out there. But if you look in the past, from 1995/1996 there was an $8 jump; a $6.75 jump and a $3 in 1999. In 2004, they were on the right track with a little over a two percent increases until the engineers told us that we need to address the financial status report from the ten year master plan for Mina and Luning,” Fitzgerald said.
“And we did and we agreed on a one time large increase and to come in front of the board for smaller increases, so you are not impacting the customers so extremely,” she continued.
Fitzgerald explained that this is the sixth year of doing small increases. Those increases began at two percent, tapered down to one percent and are now at 30 percent of the 34 percent recommended in the ten year master plan which will be completed again in 2022.
She believes that these increases will have the utilities in Mina and Luning “looking good” on the next master plan.
She discussed a “set-back” in 2017/2018 where the Mineral County Commissioners requested “we give them 50 percent more water. Customers in the Mina/Luning area went from 2,000 gallon base rate to a 3,000 gallon base rate. Fitzgerald informed the commissioners that the loss was $1,400 annually because of this increase in gallons and the one percent increase was not enough to bounce the utilities company back to where they had been.
Price explained that he has received many complaints due to the water prices.
“I believe you get complaints because they [consumers] don’t understand the rate increase because there is no explanation,” Grant told him.
Fitzgerald said that by coming in front of the commissioners annually, though the process is more of a chore for that office, the rate increase is done in smaller increments. She also explained rate increases, grant funding over $10.3 million in grant funding, $6 million in loans and increases of employee standby-rates and equipment.
Grant discussed the aging wells in the Mina and Luning area.
The rate increase for Mina/Luning would be two cents increase per 1,000 gallons and 36 cents on the base rate.
Hawthorne Utilities requested a one percent increase for Mina/Luning water customers.
Commissioner Christine Hoferer told Fitzgerald that one of the biggest complaints she has heard was the “pay early feature” that was once offered for customers. Fitzgerald explained that in-lieu of that feature; customers are not charged a “call-out” fee when they call for services outside of business hours. A customer can call up to eight times in a 24-hour period and not be charged. This has saved utilities users $75,000 in a one year time frame.
Hawthorne water users would be looking at a 16 cent water rate increase and one cent up to 30,000 gallons and two cents after that. Hawthorne has between 1,500 and 1,800 customers depending on the time of the year.
Cory Canyon customers will continue at the base Hawthorne rate, if they go over 30,000 gallons it $6.02/1,000 gallons. Those customers seen not to care, Fitzgerald explained.
“We are doing really well,” Fitzgerald told the commissioners.
Hawthorne Utilities has been awarded over $10 million in sewer grants. Currently there are three loans out in the amount of $6.3 million. Fitzgerald explained that the sewer account just builds. Most expenses are not paid out of there such as employee wages, etc. only projects.
Sewer users will see a five cent increase on this service.
Garbage pickup services will increase five cents to help with the replacement of garbage carts. Mineral County Public Works Director Eric Hamrey asked if they were recycling the old cans. Grant explained that they are destroyed and buried in the landfill.
No one showed up for the evening hearing. Price feels that the community needs to be more involved and informed about this issue. He made a motion to adopt resolutions that were read into record by Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald explained that the rate increases will begin July 2019.