Water power charges to increase: 30 cent rise follows 40 cent decrease in December

  • Keith Okamoto

An increase in electric rates is leading to the highest power cost surcharge on county water bills in at least two years, with the Water Board on Tuesday approving a 16% hike in the power cost charge.

The increase from $1.85 to $2.15 per thousand gallons, starting Monday, was approved on a 7-0 vote. No members of the public testified at a public hearing, leading board member Steven Hirakami to question why no one participated.

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“It seems unusual of the thousands of water users there are no testifiers. This is the largest increase in a couple of years,” Hirakami said. … I’m just amazed that there’s no public testimony.”

With the proposed 30-cent increase, a family of five, which consumes on average about 12,000 gallons of water per month, will see its bimonthly water bill increase by $7.20. That’s on top of an average 13% increase in water rates that went into effect Jan. 1.

The cost charge was last changed June 1 when consumers saw it increase from $1.71 to $1.85 per 1,000 gallons. In December, the rate was decreased from $2.01 per 1,000 gallons to $1.71.

Hirakami, who represents Puna, said he’d be more comfortable if the newest increase were applied on a sliding scale to give homeowners a break.

“Is there a way to adjust it so commercial users such as hotels have a higher rate?” he asked.

Board Chairman William Boswell, who represents North Kona, said hotels are on large master water meters, where rates are already “exponentially higher” than the 5/8 inch meters used by single family homeowners.

Besides, added board member Benhamin Ney, representing Kohala, the power charge is a simple pass-through to accommodate fluctuations in electric charges.

“It’s a pass-long cost; we don’t derive revenue from it,” Ney said.

The power cost charge is a relatively recent policy that allows the semi-autonomous department react more quickly to changes in power costs. Before that, the Department of Water Supply operated on an annual budget that changed little.

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“It’s a fee that was established by the board because of the fluctuation in the utility rate costs,” said Manager-Chief Engineer Keith Okamoto. “In the past, we could get far behind and could only adjust rates on an annual basis.”

Okamoto said the upcoming water rate study, which is conducted by consultants prior to rate changes, will allow for different rates for different categories of users.

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