Ketchikan’s City Council is considering whether to hike city water and power rates. While officials say the increases will be necessary, some members of the council are wary of the timing.
City Manager Karl Amylon told the council earlier this month that the publicly-owned water utility has lost hundreds of thousands dollars each year for a decade.
“It’s basically because the council doesn’t want to raise rates to meet the cost of production of water,” Amylon said at the Feb. 4 council meeting.
He says rates didn’t go up even after the city borrowed to replace water mains and other upgrades. And without rate increases, Amylon says it’ll only get worse.
“And now we’re looking at a multimillion-dollar project to address the failing Schoenbar water mains that are decades old, so it’s not getting any better,” Amylon said.
That’s a reference to leaky pipes along Schoenbar Road. The city estimates it’ll cost around $7.5 million to fix them.
So he proposed a 5% hike to water rates. And faced with rising wholesale power rates, Amylon said the city would need to hike electricity prices 1.5% as well. The hikes are estimated to cost the average household about $75 a year, or $6.25 a month.
But Council Member Abby Bradberry said the pandemic means now was the wrong time to raise rates.
“We are now asking people to decide — are you going to pay the electricity bill to keep you warm, or are you going to pay for food on your table?” Bradberry said.
She found support from Council Member Sam Bergeron, who called the water and electric rate hikes “incredibly tone-deaf.”
But the other five members of the council supported the increase, including Riley Gass.
“It brings me no pleasure to vote to increase rates, believe me, it doesn’t, but we’re in a situation where we gotta pay our bills,” Gass said.
Ketchikan’s City Council is scheduled to take a final vote on the rate increases at a virtual meeting on Thursday. The meeting’s full agenda is available online, and it’ll be broadcast on local cable channels and live-streamed at the city’s website. Members of the public can sign up to address the council by calling the clerk’s office at 228-5658 by 4 p.m. Thursday.