BAYFIELD - With a problematic sewage-treatment facility that shut down development in Bayfield, ran into construction delays and created $5 million in debt fresh in the minds of trustees, the Bayfield Town Board didn't feel like taking any chances with the town's water at the board's first meeting of 2009.
The board is set to increase water rates by 15 to 25 percent, depending on usage, to cover anticipated repairs and growth. A study about possible water rate increases, prepared by management intern Jack McGroder and Public Works Director Ron Saba, was discussed Tuesday night at the Bayfield Town Hall.
The council is preparing to vote on the rates next month.
"Sometimes spending money saves money in the long run," Town Manager Justin Clifton said describing the initiative by phone Wednesday. "Our attempt is to save the taxpayer money by putting an appropriate maintenance program in place."
The plan, Clifton said, is to adjust rates to cover the costs of future maintenance and infrastructure and a required million-dollar water-treatment plant expansion that town officials expect could be needed within a year.
Along with covering the costs of necessary fixes, Clifton sees the rates providing incentives for residents to use less water, which would also save the town money.
The tiered system includes four categories of average use - averages being difficult to compile because of the drastic swings in water use between summer and winter months.
Residents in the first tier, which includes most Bayfield residents, would see a 15 percent increase in their rates; the second, an 18 percent increase; the third, a 21 percent increase; and a 25 percent increase would go to the remainder of consumers.
The average Bayfield resident - who uses 6,000 gallons of water a month - will see a rate jump from $19.80 to $22.77, Clifton said.
Bayfield Mayor Rick Smith said he would like to see the lowest increase go to the demographic with the lowest average use, residents on fixed incomes.
"I have a big yard, but that's a choice I made," Smith said at Tuesday's meeting. "I'll just have to rip out more of my yard."
Clifton compared the town's strategy to a common problem.
"It's the equivalent of someone with 5,000 miles on their car not getting an oil change because they're worried about the cost. Your engine could break down, and it can end up costing a lot more to ignore the problem," he said.
The measure will be open to public comment, and potentially ratified, at the Bayfield Town Board meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 3 at the Bayfield Town Hall.