Water Department budget moves forward

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HILO — The county Water Board gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a $54.2 million operating budget and $26.3 million capital improvement budget after a public hearing where no members of the public testified.

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HILO — The county Water Board gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a $54.2 million operating budget and $26.3 million capital improvement budget after a public hearing where no members of the public testified.

The operating budget increase is 2.1 percent over the current year’s budget of $53.1 million. The budget faces one more vote before it goes into effect July 1.

It’s been years since members of the public have testified at the public hearing, a sign that there are few complaints about Department of Water Supply operations. Members of the board say they’re also satisfied.

“I think this is a great budget,” said Chairman Craig Takamine. “We fully support the work being done.”

Even board member Leningrad Elarionoff, who frequently quizzes staff about minute details on expenditures, said he’s satisfied with the budget and how the department is operated.

“I think they’re doing a great job,” Elarionoff said.

The highest item in the budget, $20 million, goes to purchasing power to operate the water system. Another $18 million goes to personnel, $7.8 million goes for supplies, services and equipment, $6 million will be spent for debt service and $2.5 million will be put into capital project reserves.

The capital improvement budget goes mainly for shoring up existing infrastructure, said Manager Keith Okamoto. The biggest project this year is replacing the deteriorating waterlines in Papaikou, he said.

“We have a laundry list of things in the pipeline,” he added.

The Water Board last year implemented an energy rate surcharge at 5 cents per 1,000 gallons of water, which was expected to generate $460,000. The rate was implemented after a consultant recommended the water department find a way to pay for energy improvements. The improvements, such as a wind farm facility at Lalamilo in South Kohala, are expected ultimately to lower the power charges from Hawaii Electric Light Co.

The water bill includes the energy charge, a water consumption charge, a set standby charge and a power cost charge that fluctuates with the price of electricity.

Water users consuming up to 5,000 gallons a month will continue to pay 91 cents per thousand gallons until July 1, 2019, when it will increase to 92 cents.

Those using more than 5,000 gallons monthly but less than 15,000 gallons will pay the current rate of $1.88 per thousand gallons until it increases to $1.95 in 2018, and $2.01 in 2019.

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And those using more than 15,000 gallons monthly but less than 40,000 gallons will pay $3.30, rising to $3.40 on July 1, 2018, and $3.53 on July 1, 2019.

The typical homeowner connected to a 5/8-inch pipe will pay a monthly standby charge of $18.30, up from $17.40 this year.

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