Kalispell’s water and sewer rates will increase while impact fees will decrease starting this July to fund aging infrastructure and keep up with the city’s growth.
In a 7-2 vote on Monday, May 4, the Kalispell City Council passed the water and sewer rate increase with Councilors Sid Daoud and Tim Kluesner opposed. The impact fee decrease passed in a 6-3 vote with Councilors Ryan Hunter, Sid Daoud and Kluesner opposed. Most officials were present for the meeting, with some participating via videoconference. However, the chamber doors remained closed to the public.
An average water bill will rise more than 50% and a sewer bill would nearly double over the course of the next seven years.
A previous resolution would have created a more dramatic spike in the first year, but in response to public outcry, the city council amended the resolution to create “smoother” incremental price hikes over time.
For example, an average Kalispell resident who uses 6,000 gallons with a current monthly water bill of $22.88 will pay a $23.33 monthly bill starting in July. By July 2027, that resident will pay a monthly bill of $35.01.
An average sewer bill for a resident using 4,000 gallons who currently sees a $27.56 bill will receive a $36.55 bill starting this July. After incremental increases each year, that resident would pay $54.77 by July 2027.
The water and sewer rate increases will support rehabilitation and replacement projects for old water mains, water basins, clarifiers and nitrogen treatment upgrades. Rates will also fund new wells and tanks for the Four Mile Drive Transmission Main and West Side Interceptor projects, which total $15 million, said Kalispell Public Works Director Susie Turner.
“Without prudent planning and proposed rate adjustments, the city will be in a situation where we are ever trying to catch up in order to maintain and sustain our utility systems,” Turner said.
Water impact fees, or one-time rates on new developments, will drop by 50%.
While the resolution creates significant water and sewer rate increases, which were last adjusted in 2013 and 2014, councilors acknowledged the inconvenient timing during a struggling economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councilor Hunter suggested applying a discount to low-income residents, similar to the Flathead Electric Cooperative.
“I am going to support the rate increase with the hope that we can develop the low-income household discount in the coming months,” Hunter said.
Councilors Daoud and Kluesner were concerned over the meeting’s transparency, given that the public wasn’t present to provide comment on the newly amended resolution.
“I’m not ready to vote on this tonight,” Kluesner said. “I like (the new resolution) but I also don’t like the fact that we don’t have the public here.”
Both councilors suggested tabling the motion to allow in-person public comment instead of the current public comments, which are sent via email. The motions to table failed.
Additionally, lobbies at Kalispell City Hall and Parks and Recreation, as well as municipal tennis courts, reopened to the public on Monday, May 4 with social-distancing guidelines. Begg Dog Park is scheduled to reopen May 9.
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