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Summit County Council Approves Budget For Mountain Regional, Considers Water Rate Dispute

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The Summit County Council Wednesday night approved the budget for 2020 for their Mountain Regional Water District.

They also announced that they had just recently attempted a compromise, for a water rate increase proposed by Mountain Regional, that has sparked a dispute with the private Summit Water Company.  

Under the umbrella of a regional water compact set up six years ago,  Mountain Regional had agreed to sell some of its surplus water  to Summit Water, via the Weber Basin Water District.

Last month, Mountain Regional’s Administrative Control Board, agreed to increase the water rate, from $4.08 per 1000 gallons, to $6.40 per 1000 gallons.   

Summit Water representatives  protested the rate hike.

On Wednesday, Mountain Regional Manager Scott Morrison announced that the day before, Dec. 3rd, they met with County Council Members Chris Robinson and Roger Armstrong, the chairman of the District Board and Summit Water.    They decided to adjust the rate to $5.00 per 1000 gallons.

That’s a tentative decision, though, since it is the Mountain Regional board that approves the rate.    The board is set to meet on December 12th, and Morrison said he doesn’t know what the board may decide.

Council Member Robinson said he understands the reason for the proposed water rate increase was for Mountain Regional to recover costs of water service.   He said some of those costs are clear-cut, but others are more intangible.

He said at this week’s meeting, they decided they would try more of a phased-in approach to the rate increase.        

“My opinion was that there wasn’t a flaw in the $6.40 analysis.  But it results in a large increase, and that it should be phased in.  And I believe that the phase-in we discussed was starting out at $5, so that’s an increase of 92 cents per 1000 in the 2020 year, and then jumping to something on the order of $5.65 the year following, and then $6.15 or something, and then up to $6.40 in the fourth year.”

Robinson said he did get some blowback from one Mountain Regional board member.        

“I did receive an e-mail from an Administrative Control Board member who’s very upset, that “Why is Mountain Regional subsidizing Summit Water customers, when Summit Water has lower rates than Mountain Regional customers.”

Council Member Roger Armstrong said they have to consider a number of factors, affecting both Mountain Regional and Summit Water.        

“At the end of the day, we have to be concerned about Mountain Regional, we have to be concerned that that system remains operational, that it’s got water, the abllity to deliver water, that we’re not unreasonably burdening Mountain Regional’s customers because they’re paying to subsidize Summit Water customers.  But by the same token, Summit Water’s customers are also Summit County residents.   And I think we just felt that rather than landing with a giant thud, a phase-in was probably more appropriate.”

Scott Morrison also proposed that they commission an independent study next year to determine what the surplus water rate should be going into the future.

Summit Water’s manager, Andy Garland, commended that idea from Morrison.   He said Wednesday night  he’s encouraged and he’s more optimistic than he was after the meeting on Tuesday.

Garland said they are controlled by the guidelines that were set up under the 2013 Weber Basin Water Compact.        

“Weber Basin Agreement requires us every year to project five years forward what our needs are going to be.   Five years ago, we projected further growth at the Canyons that has not happened.  So we are asked to make a projection.   The person, the entity providing that water does not have to make the same commitment of the cost of that water.  So we’re going in blind.   And because of the nature of the agreement that we entered into, it becomes a perpetual obligation of Summit Water to receive that water, whether we need it or not.  So in this case in January, we will be receiving an extra 350 acre-feet, 300 from Mountain Regional, 50 from Park City, that we don’t need.”

He reminded Council that Summit Water isn’t an entity that seeks a profit.       

“I know we’ve been told that our rates are too low, but as a private non-profit mutual water company, we charge what it costs us to deliver water.   We’re not in the business to make money.”

Andy Garland, from the Summit Water Company.

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