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Board rejects price hike for rural water customers

When presented Monday with a budget plan that would raise the average rural customer's monthly water bill by nearly 13 percent, members of the Southwest Water Authority Board of Directors had a simple answer: thanks, but no thanks.

With a vote on the 2013 SWA budget slated for next month, the board listened to two different proposals during its regular monthly meeting at the Elks Lodge in Dickinson.

For the nearly 4,300 rural customers SWA services in a dozen counties in western North Dakota and South Dakota, an increase in their monthly water bills next year is a near certainty. How much the increase will be, however, is still up in the air.

For rural customers who use 6,000 (an average allotment) gallons of water, current monthly charges are $58.79. Under the first budget presented by SWA CFO Sandra Burwick, those customers would see their bill increase about 60 cents. With the second proposed budget, that same customer's bill would jump to $67.41, which would be an increase of $8.70 every billing cycle.

Although no action was taken Monday, a majority of the board made it clear they weren't interested in implementing that kind of a price hike, which would net the SWA an additional $380,400 annual profit.

With rising costs and demand for water -- among both residents and commercial interests, such as energy companies doing business in western North Dakota -- Burwick noted that there are potential customers currently on a waiting list for water services.

"I really don't like the argument that there are people waiting for water and they'd be glad to pay (an increase)," said board member Jonathan Eaton of Adams County. "Maybe those people would pay $100 or $200 per thousand gallons -- should we take them and drop our other customers?"

Several board members agreed with Eaton, saying an increase of nearly $9 per month was too much and asking Burwick to chisel out a revised proposal for the November meeting.

"I think I have my marching orders," Burwick said.

In action taken, the board approved the hiring of Denver-based public relations firm Hughes & Stuart and voted to accept a new audit proposal.

Expected SWA water sales for 2013 are projected to be over 2.2 billion gallons, which would be a jump of more than 23 percent from 2012 estimates. The SWA expects to provide the oil industry with over 128 million gallons of water next year, more than twice the amount of water expected to be used for the Dickinson depot.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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