Maui residents could end up paying as much as $30,000 for a new water meter under one of four "funding philosophies" the county's Department of Water Supply says is needed to handle future growth.
"The big wall that we're about to face is we, as a community, need to choose one of these funding philosophies, and we have to start implementing it in the budgets," Water Supply Director Dave Taylor told County Council members Tuesday.
Taylor said that adding reliable capacity to the island's public water system could be paid for through a combination of rate increases and higher fees for meters for new customers. He presented the following four scenarios to the council's Water Resources Committee.
A small waterfall tumbles down a Kihei condominium’s water feature recently. Maui County Council members heard discussion Tuesday from Department of Water Supply Director Dave Taylor on four different “funding philosophies” to pay for infrastructure needed to expand the island’s domestic water system.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
* Growth pays for growth: Annual rate increases of 5 to 6 percent, new meter fees of $20,000 to $30,000.
* Current customers help pay for new customers: Annual rate increases of 10 to 12 percent, new meter fees remain at $6,030.
* Costs shared between new and current customers: Annual rate increases of 8 to 10 percent, new meter fees of $10,000 to $15,000.
* No improvements, or projects paid for using $10 million to $20 million annually in general funds: Annual rate increases of 5 to 6 percent, new meter fees remain at $6,030.
On average, rates went up about 4 percent as part of this year's $50 million operating budget for the department. It also includes $30 million for capital improvements.
Taylor said he felt as though he was obligated to share the scenarios with council members as they work on updating the Maui Island Plan, which helps direct future development and growth. He also said the water department needs clear direction from the council in order to do long-term planning.
Council Member Riki Hokama said he was shocked at the possibility of meters costing $20,000 to $30,000. He expressed concern over the idea that "everything seems to be: Develop the land and then find the water, (instead of) take care the water first, and then we can develop."
"Why shouldn't growth be based on what we can provide through the water structure?" Hokama asked. "Why do we do the reverse and say we want to hit 200,000 people, so what does it take to make 200,000 people fit on this island?"
Taylor said the challenge is that both investment in infrastructure and growth have to happen simultaneously.
"If we want this 'growth pays for growth,' there's only two options. Either we grab the money upfront, and when we have enough critical mass of money, then we build and they get their meters then," Taylor said. "Or, we take the risk, float bonds, build the system upfront and hope there's enough growth to pay it back. It's one or the other, and I don't really know which to recommend."
Hokama said he prefers that the county find a way to develop infrastructure at a rate that existing communities are willing to pay. He said attempts to get developers to pay for infrastructure through means like deferred agreements for road improvements have been mostly unsuccessful.
"When a community grows too fast, we get a lot of issues that we can mitigate if we plan better," Hokama said. "We need to plan better."
Taylor noted that the four options could be combined or tailored to meet the island's needs. For example, different increases and fees for a single-family home versus a multi-unit development.
Taylor's presentation was a nonaction agenda item, meaning committee members did not have to vote to recommend anything to the full council.
Committee Chairman Mike Victorino said the conversation would continue as the water department moves ahead with a long-range plan.
"This is ongoing," Victorino said. "This is about correcting our systems so the water can be made available and keep up with growth."
With the Maui Island Plan still under review, Victorino said he plans to have the water department and other public utilities appear before the council to discuss policies for future growth.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at email@example.com.