Utility fees in Bismarck will see an increase beginning Feb. 1, a process that saw much turbulence throughout the past year.
The larger the meter, the larger the cost. For water, the base rate of a 3/4-inch meter will increase $1.71, compared to an increase of $6.18 for a 1-inch meter.
The new rates, which were approved Tuesday by the city commission, are expected to help Bismarck overcome a projected shortfall in its water services. A recently completed evaluation, conducted by Stantec, of the utility operations enterprise fund, as well as user rates involving the water, sewer and stormwater divisions, provided the basis for the city commission to move forward on the rate model, budget, capital improvement projects and fees for utility operations.
In 2019, water is expected to cost the city about $19 million, with a revenue flow of $18 million with the existing rates. Wastewater expenditures are expected to total $14 million, with revenues of $12 million. The stormwater utility, with costs of about $2 million, is expected to benefit with $2.5 million in revenues.
“There is a shortfall in terms of the revenue being able to meet the needs of the water system,” Andy Burnham, with Stantec, said. “When you aggregate all three systems together, in 2019 we’re looking at a needed increase in revenue of about 2.75 percent.”
In January, the city implemented new fees that would charge for utilities on empty lots, which was met with opposition from local homebuilders and land developers. According to city officials, the fees were established to reduce debt and pay maintenance costs.
In February, the city commission retracted the new fees, reconciled the city's budget and announced plans to conduct the cost of service and rate design study. Stantec was hired in April, at a cost of about $260,000, to complete the analysis, and to devise a more equitable solution.
Single-family households that seldom irrigate the lawn and use water, primarily, indoors will see little change to their water bills, according to Andy Burnham with Stantec.
Watering lawns and filling swimming pools during peak days and times during the summer months will be at an additional cost to users with the implementation of the new fees.
“There is a great cost that we incur by putting processed water on our lawns,” Mayor Steve Bakken said. “There needs to be a big educational component to this to help educate residents to proper water usage for irrigation, proper lawn types ... because now I’m a little remiss to water my lawn at all, which I don’t think we want to see across the community.”
A bill calculator, which will provide users a glimpse of what their new utility bill might look like, will be made available at www.bismarcknd.gov.