EPHRAIM—At the same meeting where it passed the 2022-23 city budget, the Ephraim City Council voted to increase the city’s fire, water, sewer and power rates.
While the increases look small, they could add up to a significantly bigger city bill, especially for customers whose water and power use is above average.
The city is forced to raise utility rates because the costs to provide the services continue to increase, Jon Knudsen, the city finance director, said a few days after the meeting on Wednesday, June 15.
The base rate for culinary water for residents living within the city limits will increase from $24.96 to $30 per month. The base rate for out-of-city residents served by Ephraim City will increase from $37.44 to $45 per month.
There will be a 3% increase for each tier of water usage beyond the base rate. Currently, households that use between 7,001 and 30,000 gallons pay the base rate, plus $1.82 per 1,000 gallons. That charge will be going up to $1.87. So the water bill for a family using 15,000 gallons will go from $39.52 to $44.96.
At the next tier, 30,001 to 60,000 gallons, the charge will go from $2.08 to $2.14 per 1,000 gallons. So a household or business using 40,000 gallons will pay the base rate for the first 7,000 gallons and the Tier 1 rate for 7,001 to 30,000 gallons.
But this hypothetical customer’s usage lapses into Tier 2. The former rate for usage from 30,001 to 60,000 gallons was $2.08 per 1,000 gallons. That rate will go to $2.14 per 1,000 gallons. So the total water bill for the customer using 40,000 gallons will go from $87.62 to $94.41.
Nearly all households are at the base, Tier 1 or Tier 2 levels of water use, Knudsen said. Of course, the charges above are only for the water portion of the bill. The fire fee, electricity, sewer, garbage and other charges are on top of the water charge.
Knudsen said the water budget is projected to be around $200,000 short in the next fiscal year. The rate increase is estimated to bring in just short of that amount. Knudsen describes the city’s goal as breaking even, saying, “We’re trying to stay as low as we can and still cover costs.”
The base rate for sewer services will increase from $30 to $33 per month. But again, usage affects a customer’s rate. The sewer rate is determined by water usage—“by how much water you’re sending into the sewer system,” Knudsen said.
The bill for customers whose average water usage from October through March is more than 10,000 gallons will pay $2 extra for each 1,000 gallons.
The base rate for power will increase from $5.50 to $7.50. That covers up to 50 kilowatt hours. The rate for usage from 51 to 200 kilowatt hours will go from 9.35 cents per kilowatt hour to 10.55 cents.
A customer who uses 100 kilowatt hours used to pay $10.17 for power. With the increase, the customer will pay $12.77.
Shaun Kjar, city manager, says the increase will not completely cover the projected shortfall in the Power Department budget. “So we will expect to see over the next 5 years some incremental increases in power costs to make sure we’re able to keep providing (power).”
According to Knudsen, the cost of the power the city purchases from power plants is up 22% from last year.
“One of the things that happened in the electrical community is that the price of everything has gone up. Poles, wires, transformers have almost doubled. If we want services in our community, we have to pay to get the services,” said Councilman Alma Lund, who was formerly power superintendent for the city.
“We’re asking the citizens, if they want the power, we’re going to ask them to help us. The power…that we purchase has gone up throughout the country. Wind, solar, everything that we draw power from is increasing. “
The Fire Protection Services fee, collected on utility bills, is increasing by $1, changing the rate to $8 for residential structures and $12 for commercial structures under 10,000 square feet.
Ephraim keeps less than half of the amount it collects from city residents. The rest goes to the Fire District, which coordinates the purchase and assignment of fire trucks and equipment to the various volunteer fire departments in the county.
The increase was mandated by the fire district. The entire $1 increase will go to the fire district; the city will continue to keep $3 of the $8.
The city council estimated that the new utility rates will increase the average household utility bill by $18 to $21.
“If it doesn’t come from utility bills, it would have to go through taxes,” Kjar said, and the city council is trying its best to hold down property taxes.