WAILUKU - Maui County residents could have to pay double the current price for a new water meter come July 1 under a proposal by the Department of Water Supply.
News of the proposed meter hike comes just a week after Mayor Alan Arakawa announced in his State of the County address that the administration is seeking a 5 percent across the board water rate hike for upkeep and improvements to the aging water system.
Water Supply Director Dave Taylor in an appearance Wednesday before the County Council's Water Resources Committee proposed water rate increases in the coming years on top of the one proposed by the mayor.
Reliability would improve
On the water meter increase, Taylor told council members more money is needed to help pay for capital improvement projects - some already approved by the council - continuing maintenance of the system, finding new sources of water and accommodating future population growth.
He emphasized in his presentation and slide show to the council committee that "revenues equal expenditures" and that if work needs to be done it has to be paid for. He noted that the water meter fee has not gone up in at least a decade.
Under the proposal, fees for water meters initially would double across the board with prices tentatively increasing annually by $2,000 for the next five years, water officials said.
Currently, residents pay $6,030 for a standard residential water meter; under the proposal the fee will rise to $12,060 beginning in July. The next year, the meter will cost $14,060.
The approximately 250 people, who were on the now defunct Upcountry water meter waiting list as of Oct. 31, 2001, are grandfathered in at $3,350 per meter, Taylor said, citing county ordinance.
As far as overall water rates go, Arakawa is proposing a 5 percent rate hike for next fiscal year that begins July 1. From the next fiscal year after that, the administration is seeking water rate hikes, ranging from 6 to 17.5 percent annually, over the next decade, water officials said.
The package of proposals on the water meter and rate hikes offered Wednesday in Council Chambers was for what the administration considered its best option for maintaining and expanding the aging system. Any water and meter rate hikes would have to be approved by the County Council.
Taylor offered other proposals besides the recommended one. Those included having water meter users bearing more of the costs and others that would put more burden on water users. Other options included having private developers build water infrastructure and having them dedicate it to the county and to aggressively hike water rates to encourage water conservation.
Arakawa plans to include the best option proposal in his budget, which is set to be released for council review late next month, Taylor added.
He said the department wanted to come before council members before the budget process began so that there were "no surprises" and to allow more time for review outside the crunch of the budget hearings.
"The public owns the water system," said Taylor outside the meeting. "Any improvements have to be paid for by the public."
Council Member Don Couch said he more or less liked the option that Taylor is recommending.
"I guess the new users should pay for the (growth of the system), when everyone else can pay for the maintenance," Couch said alluding to the fact that water meter fees are restricted funds that go toward source storage and growth and not for operational things, such as trucks and electricity.
Couch asked Taylor about what to tell his constituents when they ask what they will receive in return for the increases. Taylor responded: Reliable water service.
"What they are getting is constant service. . . . It's hard to sell lack of failure as success," Taylor said.
Committee Chairman Mike Victorino agreed, pointing out that if Maui County waits to make upgrades and improvements it could be seeing water main and infrastructure breaks such as those seen frequently on the TV news on Oahu.
Victorino, who has sat on the water board in the past, said that back in the 1990s there was no water rate increase for five years. Water rates, which were then managed by the water board and are currently overseen by the council, have gone up in the past years.
"I will always be a watchdog for water rates," Victorino told the committee, adding that he understands that costs have increased.
He noted he understood how increases can affect residents and farmers.
"We'll do everything possible to ensure their viability, too," the council member said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.