Revisiting water rates met with opposition on Homer City Council

Feb 13, 2018

Credit Image Courtesy of the City of Homer

Two resolutions aimed at revisiting water and sewer rates were removed from the Homer City Council’s agenda Monday. Both resolutions said that commercial users were impacted negatively after the city moved to a uniform rate for both residential and commercial users in 2013 and it called for a task force to look into the issue.

The task force would have been made up of two large-volume commercial users and one member of the Economic Development Advisory Commission. The resolutions asked it to review current rates and any impacts from the change to uniform prices, such as job losses, and report back to the council by its first meeting in June.

But the resolutions were met with opposition. Council member Rachel Lord feared a commission made up of only commercial users would call for higher rates on residential customers and ask for reduced prices on commercial users, something council member Caroline Venuti echoed. Venuti added that she has not heard from the business community on the issue.

“Six letters, a couple of emails from concerned citizens that are saying, ‘this is going to place my water bill, once again, up in the air as a political football,’” Venuti said. “One lady said, ‘I’m a single person living in my home, and I know my water bill is going to go up to subsidize a business.’ When you have a business plan, you pay what the water bill is.”

Council member Shelly Erikson, who crafted and sponsored the resolutions, said she had heard from businesses who say the rates are too high and said forming the commission would not guarantee rate increases.

“I think that it is healthy to take a step back and look to make sure we are, as a city, inline,” Erikson said.

That’s something local laundromat owner Warren Miller agrees with. Warren owns the Wash Board on Ocean Drive.

Miller’s water bill increased tenfold last fall after a metering mistake dating back about 10 years was discovered.

“I raised my prices on washing machines and dryers and showers by 20 percent, but that doesn’t cover what I’m using. I took a pretty big pay cut,” he explained.

Miller was not required to pay for the under-metered water, and said he bought the business about six years ago based on the lower rate.

Miller adds he may have to raise his prices again after his meter was corrected. Miller spoke with council members about water and sewer rates, and he said that not all customers pay the same prices.

Most pay $2.66 per 100 gallons of water. But the city’s system needs pumps to deliver water to some areas of the city such as the Wash Board on Ocean Drive and other businesses on the spit. Any customers hooked into those pumps pay about 28 percent more.

Miller said that’s the biggest thing he would like to see change, but after the resolutions were pulled Monday, he doesn’t think that’s likely.

“My experience with how the city operates, I don’t have much hope for what they’re going to do. You’re pretty much on your own. That’s how I feel where I’m at, I’m on my own,” Miller said.

Erikson pulled both resolutions from the agenda after the pushback at Monday’s meeting.  

Several council members indicated they would be interested in a work session on revisiting rates as a whole and most said they would prefer not to focus solely on commercial users. But a date was not set.

Erikson said if a work session were to happen, she would want the council to revisit the issue before it approves annual rate adjustments in July.