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Sewer assessments return for discussion

2:17 am September 27th, 2012

By Laura Colvin

Kuna Melba News editor

Members of the Kuna City Council last week got their first look at a draft of the city’s new sewer assessment chart.

The chart, also known as the equivalent dwelling unit (EDU) table, attempts to simplify complicated and, some would argue, illogical specifications for how the city should assess sewer hookup and maintenance fees for any given housing unit or business.

The current table came under scrutiny last year when city officials discovered assessments for commercial sewer connections vary drastically from one business to the next.

According to city code, a single-family residence is the basis for one EDU, and other structures, particularly commercial, are assessed a number of EDU’s based on an “equivalent dwelling unit table” used by the city.

Once the number of EDU’s is determined, the city charges that property a one-time connection or “hookup fee,” to connect to the municipal sewer and water systems.

But because the businesses’ assessments are based on the EDU table, the assessments are not based on actual usage; the city’s investigation revealed water usage had very little to do with a business’ monthly sewer bill, resulting in wide discrepancies among businesses.

The discovery came amid last year’s sewer assessment dispute with the Creekside Lounge and Peregrine restaurant, which is owned by Kuna Mayor Greg Nelson.

The new table, which was presented to the council Sept. 18 by city attorney Richard Roats, boils the previous 43 classifications to 17.

“With residential units, instead of having them spread out, we lumped them all together:  one EDU for a single family dwelling, condominium, mobile home, apartment… that just simplifies it,” said Roats, who told the council he had some input, but noted city engineer Gordon Law put together most of the chart. “With the assembly halls and churches, there’s significant change there. We visited this issue once and came up with a rather high number and council reduced that significantly. This is an attempt to try to be more along the lines of what the actual impact to the system is.”

It was that attempt to more carefully arrive at a number to reflect the impact, Roats said, that necessitated subcategories under many of the classifications.

In the proposed table, for example, “Food and Beverage Service” all falls under one heading and is assessed at one EDU—although the subcategories are assigned additional assessments.

In the “Food and Beverage Service,”

Bar and lounge: add per each 20 seats over 20 .50

Restaurant Fine Dining: For each seat over 25 .05

Restaurant Sit down: For each seat over 12 .08

Restaurant: Fast food: for each seat over 20 .05

“Fine dining is the one I added to the chart,” Roats said, noting he was looking for a representation of a fine dining establishment verses a sit down establishment.  “Some of the sit down restaurants in town may turn a table every half hour or hour during the evening, verses fine dining, which may not even have all tables full, or, if they turn a table, it may be once per evening. I tried to break that out and make it a little more equitable as to the impact on the system.”

Council Briana Buban-Vonder Haar told Roats she appreciated the attention to detail on trying to get as close to actual use as possible, but added she was hoping for a more precise measure.

If, moving forward, we are are looking at using the (ordinance) provision that allows us to look at actual use after a year and then adjust…I’m hoping some of the intricacies—.05 verses .08—will come out in the wash.”

If that were the case, she suggested, adjustments for actual use on a monthly basis could be made going forward, with no retroactive bill; no payments or refunds would be owed by either side.

But Roats said his interpretation of the ordinance would only grant the city the leeway to go back and reevaluate when assessments were staff calculated.

“What we’re really trying to do is collect the proper amount up front for EDUs,” he said.  “So far we’ve been refunding money where there’s been a reevaluation. I don’t think it’s going to be possible to guess and, if we’re wildly off go back in a year and say, ‘Oh you owe us more money.’”

Currently, he added, some businesses might be using 47 EDUs, although they only paid for three.

The council did not take any action on the issue, but are likely to readdress the new table, and possibly approve it at the Oct. 2 meeting.

“After we get chart approved we need to address how we collect,” said Roats. “Are we just going to be giving out money or are we actually going to collect more EDUs?”

 

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