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W. Jordan gives water users brief reprieve from rate hike

Local water users got a temporary reprieve this week from what appeared to be a certain $1.50-per-month minimum increase in their water bills.

The City Council agreed to postpone action on the proposed rate hike for at least five more weeks while it studies other options for restructuring water rates.Over the past two months, West Jordan officials have been bal-ly-hooing a plan drafted by city staff to boost water rates for all residents and businesses but place more of the fiscal burden on users with large yards and gardens.

The plan, intended to raise an additional $1.2 million to offset recent deficits in the city's water fund, was outlined during a public hearing Tuesday night.

While it increases the basic 6,000-gallon charge by $1.50 a month, the staff proposal also gives large commercial users like Dannon and Fairchild a rate break.

But council members put the staff plan on hold during a public hearing Tuesday night, continuing the hearing until April 21 while they study other rate options.

Chief among those options is a "seasonal" rate system proposed by the newly formed West Jordan Water Conservation Committee.

Lyle Summer, who chairs the committee, said charging higher rates for water during peak usage months - May through September - and lower rates for off-peak months would raise about the same amount of money for the city.

The main difference, he said, is higher summer water rates would encourage water conservation at a time when the city has to buy water at premium "peak" prices to meet a heavy water demands.

Under the seasonal rate scenario, water users would pay $13 a month for the first 6,000 gallons plus 95 cents for every additional 1,000 gallons used during the summer peak months. The off-peak charge would be the same basic fee plus 55 cents for every additional 1,000 gallons. No break would be offered to large business users.

The staff plan would charge 80 cents for each 1,000 gallons over a 6,000-gallon minimum, up to 40,000 gallons. Heavy users in the 40,000-to-100,000 gallons range would pay $1.10 for each additional 1,000 gallons over 40,000.

After the 100,000-gallon mark, however, the cost drops back to 80 cents per 1,000 - a concession to large business users.

Some residents said they think it's unfair to keep increasing residential water rates while local school officials indiscriminately over-water school lawns.

Others said they oppose reducing water rates for large commercial users and want businesses to pay their fair share.

And several questioned the transfer of about $1.4 million a year from the water fund into other city budgets to pay for city services to the water department.

Those transfers siphoned off nearly 40 percent of the $3.4 million in water fund revenues in fiscal 1997 and paid for hefty por-tions of several city budgets.

The largest budget percentages include public works (50 percent), personnel (35 percent), accounting (35 percent) and city manager (25 percent) budgets.

City Manager Dan Dahlgren said transfers ensure the water fund pays its own way and is not subsidized by other city departments.

But residents said after the meeting they don't understand the sheer size of some of the those transfers, including a shift of some $115,000 annually into public safety budgets for administration, patrol and investigations.

Members of the water conservation committee also indicated they will ask city officials for a more detailed analysis of the transfers.