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Math mistake sinks water rate hike in Orchard City

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Even before Orchard City's new water rates take effect as scheduled on May 1 they are already being changed. An accounting error made in calculating the new water charges is said to be responsible.

As a result, the town board will have to change the new water base charges and use rates they adopted on March 8. This latest change is scheduled to be adopted on Wednesday, April 12.

At a trustee work session last week, Mayor Ken Volgamore said that some of the new charges "won't be as bad as we thought," and "not such a drastic change." After town officials had sharpened their pencils the May 1 increase in base charges for both in-town and outside-of-town will be less than originally announced. Instead of the in-town base charge for a three-quarter inch residential tap going from $13 per to $25 per month on May 1, the in-town base charge for that tap will go to $16.25 per month. And, instead of the outside-of-town base charge for a three-quarter-inch residential tap going from $17 per month to $32 per month, the base charge for that tap will go to $21.25 per month. In both cases the additional $5 per month water capital construction fee will be retained.

Orchard City residents with other sized domestic water taps should contact Town Hall directly.

Higher water usage rates (i.e. charges for gallons of water used) will not change from those originally announced, town officials said at last week's work session.

The snafu is being blamed on a big miss in accounting for the number of the town's water customers. Calculations were based on the number of water meters in the town system, which was determined to be 1,789. But, the amount of money that trustees decided they want for the water fund from the new rates will be divided up according to the number of water customers who get their water through those meters, a number said to be 2,153. That is a miscalculation of 364 customers on their water system that town officials didn't realize they had as they worked over the past year on their new water rates.

The result, according to an explanation given at last week's work session, is that since the money that trustees want to raise for the water fund is being collected from more customers than originally thought, each customer will pay less than originally thought.

Constituent and former trustee Jan Gage, told trustees at their work session that the town needs to involve the public more directly in the water rate discussion. In spite of a direct mailing to water customers, Gage believes that many are not aware of the coming big increase in monthly water charges that will show up in their June water bills.

Volgamore noted that the town expects to get many complaints about water bill increases no matter how big they are.

Another constituent, retired CPA Doug Keller, made a presentation to the town board at last week's work session opposing the increases. His comments indicated that based on the town's own reasoning there is no increase at all needed in water charges or rates. (See related story.)

Trustees have said they want to raise $1 million for water fund cash reserves to deal with "future catastrophes." Keller showed that Orchard City has over $2.5 million "sitting in the bank now" in its water fund and water capital construction fund combined. All of that money is already available for use in dealing with any emergency catastrophe situation, Keller explained.

"You are not as short [of money in the water fund] as you think you are," Keller told trustees. "Why do you need $2 million in reserves?" The reason, replied Trustee Dick Kirkpatrick, a member of the trustee water committee, "is because that is what the board has determined."

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Surface Creek
Orchard City, water rates
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