Hot Springs approves water, sewer rate increases

| October 14, 2020 12:00 AM

By CHUCK BANDEL

Valley Press

It was a hearing that wasn’t.

Last Monday residents of Hot Springs who wished to voice their opinions about a proposed monthly increase in water and sewer rates were given a chance to do so during a hearing at the Town Hall.

No one showed up except the Mayor, the town Council and a reporter.

With no opposition to the proposal so noted, Hot Springs’ Council adopted the increases.

“We haven’t had an increase in water or sewer rates since 2008,” said Mayor Randal Woods. “Everything involved is getting more expensive and we have to stay on top of keeping the system operational and updated.”

The Council met the night after the hearing and approved the increase in base rates, along with authorizing a two percent increase per year over the next five years.

Woods said the Montana Rural Water agency came to Hot Springs earlier this year and went through expenses, operations and other factors and came up with recommendations to keep the water and sewer systems operating up to state standards.

Woods cited such things as the town’s sewage lagoons, which have outlived their expected effectiveness, fire hydrants that are wearing out and other pieces of the systems infrastructure that have begun failing due to prolonged wear and tear.

“By staying on top of these issues we won’t get behind the eight-ball like we did in 2003,” Woods said of expenditure shortfalls that ultimately forced the town to borrow approximately one million dollars.

The lagoons alone, Woods said, have been operating for 37 years, far more than their projected useful life of 20 years.

Increased testing of ground water supplies and other items, along with increased involvement by the Environmental Protection Agency, have been a factor in pointing out areas of concern, he said.

“Times have changed,” Woods said. “It used to be that water and sewer operations was about an hour a day. Now that has risen to at least a half day. Costs for everything have gone up.”

Woods said the hearing, which was announced via notices in water bills prior to the Monday public input session, showed the town did everything it could to get word of the hearing out to the public. A virtual link was also set up to allow for public comment via the internet during the meeting. No one showed up or participated on-line.

He noted that many other towns in the region have experienced similar challenges and expense increases.

“A lot of towns are going through the same thing, like Plains and Thompson Falls,” he said. “You can’t really compare us to other towns because we are all different in some ways but we have to keep ahead of this.”

Under the new rate increases, the base rate for water will increase from its present $23.15 a month to $29.14 a month, while the monthly sewer base rate will rise from $18.90 to $24.91. That works out to $12 a month.

One resident who contacted the Valley Press prior to the meeting had complained that no advance notice of the hearing was given. That resident was not present at the hearing.

The same local citizen had also claimed the town folk needed help because the Mayor had purchase a Humvee military-style vehicle with a machine gun mount on top.

Woods smiled when he explained the Humvee was given to him by a sheriff in the region who had a surplus of the vehicles. The unarmed vehicle will be put to good use, he said.

“We will use it for parades and other similar activities,” Woods said. “It could also be used in the event of a search and rescue. We got it for free.”