New Great Falls utility rates effective Oct. 1
The City Commission voted 5-0 on Tuesday to approve new utility rates that go into effect Oct. 1
City staff annually reviews the cost of providing utility services and adjusts rates as needed to meet those costs. In recent years, upgrades required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been driving rate increases.
This year, the city hired Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services, Inc., or AE2S, to conduct a rate study based on a comprehensive review of the city’s utility funds and budgets.
The last water and sewer cost of survey was done in 2001.
After adjusting rates to the 2018 study findings, the average monthly residential utility bill will decrease 2 percent or 91 cents. The average monthly commercial utility bill will increase 4 percent or $5.48.
City staff and AE2S updated commissioners on the process in January and in July, AE2S reviewed their findings during a work session.
AE2S has recommended adjustments in user classes to better align rates with cost of service to different types of users.
One of the changes staff recommended and commissioners approved this week is a change in the fixed charges to align fees with the American Water Works Association and to adjust essential water use from 300 cubic feet to 600 cubic feet per month.
Tiered rates for residential sewer use are also being eliminated to be more consistent with common wastewater industry practices and level out the rate.
Water rate increases are due to the roughly $102.8 million in capital improvements needed over the next decade, according to staff.
Many of the improvements are driven by federal requirements and include:
- $30.6 million: ongoing water main replacement
- $22.6 million: water treatment plant electrical upgrades, phases one and two
- $11.5 million: north/south river crossings
- $9.6 million: water treatment plant filter media replacement and upgrade, phases one through three
- $5 million: water treatment plant sludge processing improvements.
Over the next decade, operating expenses are projected to grow from $6.2 million to $9.8 million due to increases in cost for chemicals, power, labor and general inflation.
Staff also recommended a gradual per meter size correction strategy with differing increases applied by meter sizes to gradually correct ratios to ensure that the total revenue is in line with the cost of service. Staff recommended a 10 percent increase or 31 cents per month for 1-inch meters and a 6 percent increase or 71 cents per month for 2-inch meters.
The rate increase for sewer is due to about $45.4 million in capital improvements needed over the next decade.
Significant projects include:
- ongoing sewer rehabilitation at $11M
- Waste Water Treatment Plant westside pump station improvements at $1.75 million
- Lift Station No. 1 rehabilitation at $3 million
- and nutrient discharge improvements at $10 million.
Over the next 10 years, operating expense is projected to grow from $5.9 million to $8.6 million. The projected cost escalation for key operational expenses is due to chemicals, power, labor and general inflation.
The rate increase for storm drain is due to the approximately $23.2 million in capital improvements needed over the next 10 years.
Great Falls continues to rank among the lowest utility rates in the region.
According to a 2018 survey of 249 communities throughout the Upper Midwest and Rocky Mountain region, Great Falls ranked among the lower costs for utilities. For sewer, Great Falls was the fourth lowest in sewer rates, after Belgrade, Butte and Havre. Great Falls ranked third lowest for water rates in the state, after Belgrade and Kalispell.