Jackson Sewer Board approves 32% rate increase for upgrade

“We need to do it, because poop happens.”
Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, November 16, 2022

JACKSON – The Beaverhead- Jackson water and sewer district board decided to raise water and sewer rates and add an assessment to ensure its much-needed sewer upgrades are paid off.

The board unanimously approved a 32% raise in base water and sewer rates – and a monthly “assessment” payment on users’ bills – to cover the town’s portion of a massive upgrade to its ailing sewer system. The new rate system also upped the base gallons allotted before getting overage charges – from 2,000 to 5,000 gallons. The new rates go into effect Jan. 1.

The increase was the middle option of three possible increases for the roughly $864,000 project, Clerk Frances Strodtman- Royer told attendees at the Nov. 10 public hearing and board meeting. The town will pay roughly 25% of the cost, with the remaining dollars coming from county American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) infrastructure grant dollars. The district will receive an intercap loan to pay off over 15 years, but it had to have rates increased to cover the principal and interest payments before that loan would be finalized.

All three options met the loan requirements, which included putting away some money for maintenance and future replacement costs. All three options were an increase, but the other two options would likely require the board to raise rates an additional 5% starting in January. The board can do a 5% raise every year without needing a public hearing, as long as it notifies residents of the increase as state law dictates.

The other two options were a flat $35 per month sewer rate increase with an assessment payment and a $40 per month sewer rate increase with no assessment payment. The assessment amount will go away once the intercap loan is paid off, board members said.

The improvements will add capacity, limit groundwater infiltration and improve overall operations. The board has recently been dealing with failing pumps, an inability to add users to the system and clogged filters.

Strodtman-Royer pointed out Beaverhead County has forgiven the remaining $52,000 on an old sewer maintenance loan and will provide the $25,000 in reserve funds required by the intercap loan. This lifted a huge burden on the district, and helps them be better prepared for the future.

“They’re trying to get this project going – so Jackson residents, I’m sorry. You’ve got to come to the party. And I know it’s not easy,” she said.

Strodtman-Royer added she will include information about water and sewer service payment assistance, which could help with the rate increase.

Board member Susan Olsen reminded residents that rate increases will continue to occur, but they should not be as drastic of a jump.

Board member Rick Harwood said Wisdom’s sewer board changed their rates 10 years ago to allow for an assessment payment, and though it was hotly argued at the time, the payoff has been clear. Wisdom had enough money saved up in its assessment to match its ARPA grants for repairs to the system.

“Nobody likes to raise rates, but we don’t have reserves and there’s no money in the checkbook to write checks we need to write,” he said. “I have to pay the same rates as you do... whatever I vote for, that’s where I’m at – I hope everybody understands, we’re doing this to keep our little town afloat.”

Harwood also noted the engineers working on the project will assist the district with obtaining additional grants to pay down the loan sooner.

Several residents present grumbled over the cost increase, though most indicated they realized it needed to be done.

“We need to do it, because poop happens,” resident Monte Peterson said.

– Monte Peterson