Utility rates rising in Ely

by Tom Coombe -

Ely residents and business owners will soon be paying more for water, sewer and electricity.
After a public hearing, council members have approved rate increases sought and recommended by the Ely Utilities Commission.
Base rates for water and sewer service will climb by $2 per month each, while residential rates are also set to jump.
The impact on residential and commercial properties will vary based on use, but the EUC factored the new rates into a series of scenarios - based on actual utility bills paid by a sample of local homes and businesses.
Those scenarios showed overall rate hikes of between five and nine percent for residential customers, and one-to-three percent for businesses, with larger hikes for high-use customers such as grocery stores and restaurants.
The hike comes on the heels of similar water and sewer rate increases last year, with a larger increase in electric rates to compensate for a double-digit jump in wholesale rates paid by the city and to budget for upcoming capital improvements.
“At the end of the day, the cost of the utility keeps going up,” said Harold Langowski, the city’s clerk-treasurer and operations director.
Several years ago, the city propped up the water and sewer utilities by transferring $250,000 to both funds from the city’s electricity fund balance.
Since then, the water and sewer utilities have held their own despite declining usage, while the electricity has dwindled by an additional $500,000.
“Over time the fund balance with our electric utility has been spent down,” said Langowski.
Meanwhile, the EUC is moving ahead with capital improvements in all phases of its utility operation.
An automatic metering project will be completed over several years, while a system voltage conversion to ensure more consistent electric power will require borrowing $440,000.
“We’re looking at improvements ten-plus years old that we’ve had difficulty completing,” said Langowski.
New base charges in place for water ($14.25 per month) and sewer ($17.20) are both $2 higher than 2017 and $4 higher than two years ago. The variable fees remain the same at $3.90 per 100 cubic feet of water usage and $7.20 for sewer.
The city will reduce the base charge for electricity to $10 per month, down from $15, but it will no longer provide 100 kilowatt hours for free. Under the new system, all electric usage will be charged at 9.75 cents per kilowatt hour.
Commercial rates also changed, with customers with demand meters to be assessed for all usage.
Dual fuel and off-peak rates are also set to increase.
Langowski said that rates for large users such as schools, hospitals and grocery stores had remained the same since 2011 and will now go up.
Council members passed the hikes without opposition, but during the public hearing, Al Forsman left his chair an addressed the group as a citizen.
He said he favored the increase and believes “it’s important that we have a strong infrastructure,” but he called for further exploration of how the rates impact large-scale electricity users.
“I can comfortably say the large users are subsidizing residential (customers),” said Forsman.