While Soldotna City Council members agreed to raise the city's water and sewer rates on Wednesday night, they postponed passage of an ordinance prohibiting residents from connecting to only one of those two services.
The tabled ordinance concerned a rewrite of the utility line installation code and would compel a person hooking up to city water to also hook up to the city's sewer system, and vice versa. Basically, no picking and choosing; the homeowner takes both, or neither. And he or she would be entirely responsible for the costs associated with the process.
Utility Manager Rick Wood explained that the city can no longer be held responsible for treating private well water -- which is what happens when someone hooks up to just sewer and not water -- because that well water could contain anything, such as materials caustic to the city system or chemicals disallowed from being flushed out into the Kenai River in the form of effluent.
"If someone just hooks up to our sewer and they have their own well," Wood said during the meeting, "we have no idea what the characteristics of their well water are."
The goal is to control what's going in so as to better control what's going out. Wood pointed out, though, that if the council passes the ordinance at the next meeting, the rule would not be retroactive: people who are already hooked up to one and not the other would not be forced to comply unless their well or septic system failed.
"If we don't get control of what is coming into that plant," Wood warned, "we're looking at another $3 to $5 million upgrade of either our water system or our wastewater treatment plant."
Councilmembers had a problem, though, with the fact that homeowners would be entirely responsible for bearing the burden of either water or sewer line installation. Councilmember Brenda Hartman said imposing such an obligation could be a huge financial hardship, a concern Wood confirmed when he stated that he has seen it cost $25,000 to hook up to a sewer line.
Councilmember Dale Bagley agreed with Hartman, and made a motion to remove the water/sewer prohibition clause from the code until further discussions could be had on the undue financial burden issue.
"I would not be in favor of removing this," Councilmember Kyle Fisher said. "I think that, long-range, this is a good idea. I support it and I understand why we're trying to do it. Part of running this city is making tough decisions and sometimes those tough decisions aren't going to make everybody happy.
"I know it can be spendy if someone has to do this," he added, "but 100 years from now this will be a much better city because of it."
Ultimately Bagley withdrew his motion under the condition that the council agree to postpone further discussion of the ordinance until the following meeting. This will give Wood time to rewrite the code again to better address some of the council's suggestions, such as having the city share in the costs associated with hook up if they exceed a certain amount.
"I think they brought up some good points," Wood said after the meeting. "I'll just have a hard time finding out what's a hardship for one person versus someone else."
The council tackled a water/sewer ordinance bundle on Wednesday, also passing an ordinance increasing water rates 2.5 percent and sewer rates 6.5 percent every year for the next five years.
"This city is very conservative about increases," said Mayor Peter Micciche. "They are directly related to actual service costs. Some municipalities have a tendency to sort of sock it to some of their ratepayers in a lump sum," instead of slightly increasing rates to keep up with the provision of services.
Interim City Manager Melanie Lewis said the average residential user will see their monthly utilities cost go up $2.73.
The council's next meeting is scheduled for May 25.
Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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