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By chance did you notice an increase in your water bill during December 2018? If so, the increase was more than just the average fluctuation due to increased water usage. At least part of the increase is due to the new water/sewer service line program authorized by the mayor and city commissioners. If your home is “attached” to both the city’s water and sewer systems your water bill’s monthly charge went up $8.97/month, starting December 2018, to fund this program. The additional charge is assessed to approximately 8,500 single-dwelling homeowners. On average the city has completed 64 water/sewer service replacements per year, over the past seven years. The benefit of the program, to single-dwelling homeowners, is that, if ever you need to have repair work done on your water or sewer lines, you can obtain up to a $15,000, 10-year, interest-free loan to help cover the repair costs.

You may or may not agree that this is a worthwhile program for our city to foster, but I have reluctantly come to think that it is. I do, however, have two strong objections.

The first is that the mayor and city commissioners did not specify an end date for the monthly fees, which fund this program, once the program becomes “self-sustaining” through loan repayments. According to my calculations, based upon data supplied by the city, this program will become “self-sustaining” by the end of 2025, if not sooner.

My second objection is that this program and the associated cost were not sufficiently publicized for public input and debate. It is a troubling precedent that the city administration can conceive of and implement such programs, unilaterally, without sufficient notification. What prevents the city administration from randomly raising our water rates for other “do good” ideas or for no reason at all?

To address my first objection, I am currently circulating a petition to be presented at the June Helena City Commission meeting, requesting that the commission specify an end date for the monthly fees and to communicate that end date to the public. The petition’s intent is not to stop the water/sewer service line program, but rather to request that the commission specify when the monthly fees will end. If I visit your home in the coming weeks, I hope you will consider signing my petition.

If you agree with me, you might want to phone the Helena City Commission at 447-8410 or email them at mayorandcommission@helenamt.gov and express your concerns.

Richard Schuette

Helena

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