The Moab City Council is considering a resolution that would remove a firefighter exemption from having to pay for the first 2,000 gallons of culinary water per month. Firefighters, according to a proposed new rate schedule, would pay the same rate for water as other residential customers.
A public hearing on the resolution was held during a meeting of the Moab City Council on Tuesday. A public comment period, during which people may submit written comments to the city, will be open until the Jan. 9 meeting of the council, when a vote on the resolution is expected.
The change is one of several contained in the proposed measure, which piggy-backs on other significant rate changes approved by the council earlier this year.
Firefighters would not be the only ones affected.
The proposal would also hit owners of bed-and-breakfast businesses, which have also had discounted rates for water. The proposal eliminates those special rates, and bed-and-breakfasts would be charged the commercial rate for culinary water.
Even though the resolution would mean rate increases for firefighters and business owners, city officials said the changes aren’t aimed at increasing revenue.
The real revenue-generating rate changes occurred earlier this year, when the council approved significant increases in water rates. The residential base rate (for up to 2,000 gallons per month) went up 68 percent, from $5.93 to $10; the commercial base-rate was hiked 147 percent, from $10.12 to $25 for the first 2,000 gallons.
“Revenues from the current culinary water user fees have typically been insufficient to cover the city’s ongoing operations and maintenance needs for the water system,” according to a city document outlining the rationale for the increases, which were estimated to generate close to an additional $500,000 for the city’s culinary water fund.
With the handful of firefighters and bed-and-breakfast owners affected by the current proposed changes, at only a few dollars per month in most cases, that bottom line won’t be impacted much, says city communications manager Lisa Church.
“It will not increase the amount of money we’re collecting in any significant way,” Church said. “It really doesn’t have anything to do with trying to eke out some money.”
Rather, it’s about “cleaning up” and streamlining, said Church and City Manager David Everitt.
Everitt explained that the city wants to be fair — that’s why another provision of the proposal would give discretion to the city manager to apply either the residential or the commercial rate (whichever is lower) in situations where multi-family dwellings (apartments or duplexes) run on a single water meter.
This provision, Everitt told council members, “Really stemmed from conversations I had with a number of you, and feedback from the community that I got was that this [the billing system now in place] was an unfair approach.”
Everitt indicated that fairness was also a consideration that went into the decision to eliminate the “special deal” for firefighters.
“I’m not sure what the total history of this is,” Everitt said. “As a city, we do not provide a special rate for EMS workers, or search-and-rescue workers, or travel council volunteers. This ends up being really the only singled-out type of volunteer service that provides a benefit through the water-rates schedule.”
MVFD Chief Phil Mosher told The Times-Independent, “It is not for me to say what an outside entity gives us or not, but I think ... we have a very good relation with the city, county and any other department that we have in our small community.”
Provisions of Proposed Water-Rate Resolution
• Special rate carve-outs for firefighters and bed-and-breakfasts would be eliminated. Firefighters would pay regular residential rate; B&Bs would pay regular commercial rate.
• Discretion to charge lowest of differing rates for multi-family dwellings on a single water meter.
• The city would double the rate it charges itself for water at parks, cemetery and golf course.
• Either raising the “Fire Line” rate to $11.24, or else eliminating the rate altogether.
Written public comment will be accepted until Jan. 9, when Moab City Council is expected to vote.