City, engineers discuss how to approach water rates, infrastructure upgrades

A water fountain is seen at Kiwanis Park in Payette on July 22, as sprinklers water grass in the background. The city of Payette is weighing options and seeking public input to raise water and sewer rates in order to cover long-term infrastructure upgrades.

PAYETTE - At the Payette City Council’s June 20 regular meeting, Mayor Jeff Williams was quoted as saying people are moving to the area “in droves.” With this growth in mind, the Council is turning their attention to the city’s water system. The conversation at this meeting involved how to fund needed upgrades throughout the system, with the focus being on how to adjust water and sewer rates in the city to cover the cost over time.

According to the city’s website, Payette’s base water rate is $6.87 per month, with a charge of 24.5 cents per 100 gallons of water and a $5.25 fire suppression maintenance fee for customers without water service. The sewer base rate is $17.38 per month with a charge of 27.3 cents per 100 gallons of water used. Customers who do not have water service but are connected to the sewer are charged $30 per month.

Doug Argo, a Professional Engineer with HECO Engineering, addressed the Council as they discussed ways to increase rates at a comfortable pace for ratepayers.

“One thing to remember is that these [projects] are not absolutely set in stone in the order,” said Argo during the meeting. He reminded the Council that as street projects come up, water and sewer projects in the vicinity of such should be considered at the same time to help save costs.

“The other thing is things could change; One the sewer lines particularly, you might have one that collapses,” Argo added. 

HECO’s proposed Capital Improvement Plans (CIP) call for the city to budget $180,000 every year to go toward replacing pipes that are either aging or too narrow, and $375,000 every year to put toward system improvements.

As Argo pointed out in a memorandum to the Council dated July 16, present water rates cover present maintenance and operation costs but only allow the city to set aside $75,600 every year for rehabilitation. In the memorandum, Argo said rates would need to go up $3.25 per month to cover the needed rehabilitation monies. 

“Due to the age and deterioration of the distribution pipe network, we recommend that the full $180,000/year be dedicated to pipe rehabilitation projects,” said Argo in the memorandum. “We also recognize that growth and growth patterns are constantly changing and difficult to accurately predict. Therefore, we recommend that the $375,000/year for system improvements remain flexible in the sense that it could be used for pipe rehabilitation if it is determined that a planned capital improvement should be deferred.”

Following are examples of projects on the city’s to-do list over the next 10 years and their projected costs:

• Replacing an 8-inch line along 15th Avenue North between N. Third Street and N. Sixth Street: $180,000

• Replacing the 500,000 gallon reservoir at 20th Street: $1.2 million

• Laying 8-inch lines along 11th Avenue North and 12th Avenue North: Combined total of $210,000

• Laying a 12-inch high pressure line along Center Avenue, east from Iowa Avenue: $336,000

In a separate memorandum for proposed sewer CIP, Argo recommended budgeting $650,000 between the years 2022 and 2025, after which the amount needed would increase to $800,000. Sewer rate would need to increase by $18 a month to meet needs between 2022 and 2025, and an additional $4.60 a month after that, according to Argo.

Councilor Ray Wickersham asked if the recommended rate increases were flat rate, to which Argo responded that they are intended as an average increase, starting in 2021.

“According to what I’m reading in these reports, we’re at a point where we need [an increase],” Councilor Daniel Lopez said.

Wickersham expressed concern about increasing rates too much, too soon.

“We need to put an annual somewhat of an increase in there, so we don’t have to do another eighteen or twenty dollar a year increase in there,” noted Wickersham.

Lopez expressed concern about needs that have come up over the past 10 years.

“I absolutely agree that this is something that should have been taken care of over the last ten years,” said Lopez. “Our water rates shouldn’t have been kept artificially low. That’s what happened.”

Wickersham noted that through use of camera to visualize issues in the city’s water and sewer system showed that the need is clear and present.

City officials are in the process of drafting updated rates and documents for public input.

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