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Some could see water bills rise




Measures intended to respond to strains on Hays' water supply will come to a vote at Thursday's Hays City Commission meeting at 6:30 p.m. at city hall.

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Measures intended to respond to strains on Hays' water supply will come to a vote at Thursday's Hays City Commission meeting at 6:30 p.m. at city hall.

One issue to be determined is a possible change to the city's water billing system. The city's current billing structure for city water usage, which during the summer months climbs from 1.8 million to roughly 3.8 million gallons of water a day, has been in place since the early 2000s.

"Significant water waste still occurs within the community, during the driest time when our water sources are at their most vulnerable," Assistant City Manager Paul Briseno told commissioners during last week's work session. "In an effort to adjust this, we're recommending an annual second conservation tier to the commission.

"This recommendation will not hinder current residents who are using water efficiently, but more so is targeted at the top 20 percent of customers that are using water inefficiently."

According to Briseno, the top 20 percent of residential consumers use 44 percent of all residential water. The city's residential consumer with the highest water usage amount used 24,600 cubic feet of water in July 2012, enough water to supply 34 homes for one month, based on average winter usage.

The average Hays household uses 700 cubic feet per month during January, February and March.

A comparison of Hays water rates with those of other communities shows Hays rates to be "relatively cheap," Briseno said.

"We tried to come up with a rate structure utilizing our current structure, because it is a good structure, but it needs to add an adequate threshold to limit people," he said.

The addition of a second usage tier would limit usage in the first tier to 1,000 cubic feet at $3.60 per cubic foot. The proposed second tier would charge $5.60 for all usage exceeding the water average plus 1,000 cubic feet.

Under the new tier structure, Briseno estimated Hays' top water user would pay approximately $400 more per year in water charges.

City staff recommends implementing the changes during the winter months, Briseno said, to allow customers to make landscaping changes prior to the next growing season.

"If anybody complains about this (rate change), they can very easily take themselves out of the top 20 percent by doing what the other 80 percent are doing," Commissioner Eber Phelps said. "If you can afford to pay that kind of a water bill, you ought to be able to invest in a better timing system ... but also get yourself educated on the fact that you don't need to water every single day or twice a day."

Another recommendation from city staff to be considered by commissioners Thursday will be that of stopping the practice of allowing customers outside the city limits to connect to the city's water system unless a significant benefit can be demonstrated.

Currently, 47 commercial and residential customers outside Hays connect to the city's water services, and requests to connect have been on the rise due to the drought, said City Manager Toby Dougherty.

"To me, it needs to be extraordinary circumstances for us to provide water to a customer outside city limits," he said. "We're talking about imposing restrictions, conservation, efficiency measures on our customers inside the city limits.

"These are people who are not only in city limits but pay city taxes and or businesses paying sales taxes, and quite frankly, I think it's a matter of fairness. I don't want to deplete that source to provide water outside (city limits)."

Other agenda items include:

* A commercial insurance renewal.

* Award of bid for 13th Street overlay from Vine Street to Harvest Road.

* The 2012 audit.

* An update on concealed gun/knife legislation.