Bethel Council Refuses to Take Up Rate Hikes

The Bethel City Council once again declined a hard look at raising water and sewer rates. Mayor Joe Klejka was behind a memorandum to have staff write up ordinances that would make the water and sewer operation cover its costs. Eric Whitney made the motion to enter the memorandum, but that’s as far as it got.

The city currently has to transfer money earned by the port to cover costs. Vice Mayor Rick Robb in his comments said the timing might not be right.

“There is a lot of concern about raising people’s bills at a difficult time, we have some problems with that, especially as the city currently has a surplus of money due to excise tax and other things and to turn around and bring up raising bills, maybe we can use some of that excise tax in a different way. I just throw that out there as an idea,” Robb said.

Bethel resident Sherry Neth receives piped water. She expressed interest in being metered, and only paying for what her household uses. She spoke to the idea of reducing the steep costs of water delivery.

“Trucks [will] get more expensive and the more miles they have to travel, the greater the wear and tear,” she said. “I want to encourage looking at the infrastructure and and if as rates go up if some of that could be an investment toward improving infrastructure, that will in the end decrease the long term cost to the city,” Neth said.

Major Joe Klejka is urging the council to be proactive on getting control over the precarious sewage lagoon. He said agencies won’t give the city grants until the water and sewer rates cover their costs. Meanwhile, the lagoon needs protection from erosion as it generates large waves in the second cell. The port, which has been subsidizing the water sewage system, needs dock work done.

“To just wait for catastrophic failure makes me really nervous’ Kleika said. “I don’t think that’s the right way to go, maybe someone will bail us out, but it won’t be pretty when it happens, whether it’s the dock or the sewer lagoon. I think we need to go forward. I was hoping that this action memorandum would get the conversation going, because it is important. It is cost increases and it is difficult times.”

The city is about a half million dollars short on an annual basis.

The council approved a record keeping master plan that allows for electronic records. The previously approved system required all paper records.


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Ben Matheson is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.