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SWA approves rate increase

Rates are going up for rural Southwest Water Authority customers. But not as much as they could have been if some commissioners had gotten their way.

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After lengthy discussions on the matter during its regular monthly meeting Monday, the SWA Board of Directors approved a 2014 operating budget that raises rural customers’ rates about 6 percent, the lowest increase among three budget options that made the final cut for Monday’s vote.

With an 8-6 vote, the board approved a total operating budget of slightly more than $16.2 million for 2014.

For rural customers using 6,000 gallons of water per month, the budget means an increase of $3.77 per billing cycle. Currently, a rural customer using 6,000 per month pays $59.89. SWA customers in Dickinson, paying the contract rate, will see an 11-cent increase per thousand gallons of water used.

Before passing the measure, the board turned down a version that would have increased rural rates $8.52 per month (or about 14 percent) in a decision that fell two votes short of passage.

Voting no on both options, director James Odermann said he wasn’t keen on the idea of raising rates, especially the 14 percent increase proposed in the failed motion.

“I agree that we have to pay the bills,” Odermann said. “But I don’t know that we need to raise rates 14.2 percent. I’m OK with an increase, but not that big of an increase.”

The budget that passed was supported by directors Rick Seifert, Glenn Eckelberg, Ray Bieber, Marie Johnson, George Saxowsky, Duane Bueligen, Dave Juntunen and Larry Stang while Odermann, Darrel Oech, Brian Roth, Larry Bares, Bob Leingang and Steve Schneider voted against the option. Director Jonathan Eaton was not present for Monday’s votes.

“All three of the options that were available to the board were good options,” said SWA CEO Mary Massad, who told the board she preferred the option that failed before its vote. “There are some different things that we would have had to do with each option, but all three were good options and the board chose the one it liked best.”

The budget includes 5 percent cost-of-living wage increases for SWA employees and adds several new positions to the authority, including a public relations specialist position. Jerry Obrigewitsch, a former longtime employee of The Dickinson Press advertising department, fills that position.

The water authority is projected to sell more than 2.5 billion gallons of water in 2014 with more than 335 million gallons scheduled for “rural usage,” according to SWA numbers.

It projects 185 million gallons will be sold to the oil industry and will increase its oil industry rate from $18.25 to $20 per thousand gallons sold.

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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