Higher Rates in Store for Residents as Polson Rebuilds Water, Sewer Systems

Future water and sewer rates could be three time as high as they are now

By Justin Franz

Polson residents may have to pay more for water and sewer services in the coming years as the community looks to replace its aging infrastructure. And while some residents are not excited about the price tag, which will likely triple their water and sewer bills, officials say the rates must rise to pay for necessary improvements, including the construction of a new $19 million wastewater and sewage treatment plant and the replacement of water mains beneath downtown.

“We don’t want to do this but we also need to do what’s best for the community,” said Polson Mayor Heather Knutson.

Knutson said the city has known for more than a decade that it would need to improve its water and sewage systems but never did anything to raise the rates until now.In early 2013, the Polson City Commission began looking at the improvements that would be needed and the costs associated with such projects. Earlier this year, the commission decided to proceed with improvements and on July 7 it discussed the rate increases at a packed public meeting.

According to Polson City Manager Mark Shrives, residents currently pay a base rate of $13.93 per month for 5,000 gallons of water. Under the new rates, residents will pay $18.08 for 2,000 gallons of water per month. Previously, commercial users had to pay a higher rate, but under the system the city commission is looking at now, they will pay the same as residents. For sewage, residents currently pay $14.80 per month, but under the new proposed rates they would have to pay $59.07 a month, an increase of more than $44.

Shrives said the average residential user would see a 285 percent increase in the water and sewage bill after the changes.

“The problem is the rates have been so low for so many years that we wouldn’t be able to meet our debt obligations,” he said.

While he and Knutson understand that it is a massive increase, both officials said it would be necessary to pay for the water and sewage improvements. Shrives said the sewage treatment plant does not meet standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency that will go into effect in 2018. He also said the sewage lagoons are outdated and are approaching the end of their usefulness. Had the city replaced the sewage plant in 1999 it would have cost about $8 million, Shrives said, but now it will cost upwards of $18 million. The new treatment plant would also have advanced technology that would disinfect water with an ultraviolet light system. The improvement would help protect Flathead Lake and the river.

At the July 7 meeting, the city commission tabled a motion for an ordinance and resolution to change and increase the rates. Shrives said the rates will be the topic of another public meeting later this month.

“I don’t think any community wants to raise rates like this but I think we need to so we can pay for these long term improvements,” Knutson said, adding that it will also help as the community’s population grows. “We’re sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

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