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Murray Journal

Murray utility bills skyrocket as consumption and water rates increase

Dec 10, 2020 09:34AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Murray City utility crews patch a road after repairing a water line leak. (Photo courtesy Murray City)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Lynda Brown carefully watches her pennies, especially conserving water and electricity. She doesn’t own a dishwasher, makes sure her lights are turned off, and hasn’t even run her television since February, but she couldn’t believe it when she saw her utility bill jump from $116 per month to $210.

“I was shocked,” Brown said, “and they had no reasonable explanation for the huge increase.” 

Brown is not alone. The Murray Journal conducted an impromptu poll asking residents if they have seen an increase in rate charges over their previous bill. Of the 390 respondents, 86% saw an increase in their statement by over 10%, with 65% seeing an increase of over 25%.

“I looked at our usage history, and not much changed as far as I can tell, other than the charges for water usage. We didn’t get a pool or anything, so I’m not sure why the big jump,” Murray resident Sue Wilson said.

The reason may be threefold. Because of the pandemic, many Murray residents telecommuted this year, thus placing greater demand on their home utilities. Also, summer 2020 was one of the hottest and driest on record for Murray, increasing power use for air conditioners and water consumption for landscapes. Lastly, Murray City recently implemented a new tiered water rate for billing.

There have not been any power rate increases since 2011, so an increased charge for power is strictly due to consumption.

“The legislature passed the bill for a tiered water rate system with the intent of encouraging conservation,” Murray City Chief Communications Officer Jennifer Heaps said. “The city expected that some customers would continue to water their landscape, as usual, resulting in a higher bill, while others would elect to change their watering habits to avoid such an increase.”

The tiered rate system has been in place since 2018. Known as “tiered-pricing,” the law requires customers who use more water to pay higher rates than those who use less. Many believe this tiered pricing structure provides financial incentives for customers to conserve water.

Murray City Public Works Director Danny Astill stated, “The legislature saw the need to protect and stretch our water supply through a greater measure of conservation, which is why the tiered system was implemented.”

Murray resident and business owner Paul Dodge, who owns several properties throughout the city, questions if this is an appropriate rate structure. “The water tiers are based upon the size of your water line. To be fair, it should be relative to the size of your property. When you get kicked up into the top tier, it’s devastating. Your options to conserve are finite.”

Even Murray City is not immune to the change. The cemetery budget in 2019 had to increase by $50,000 for utilities to support the increase in water expenditures due to the metering of previously unmetered water lines and the implementation of the tiered water rate system.

According to Heaps, “The city instituted a five-year water rate increase beginning in 2018, which impacts the monthly base rate and the charge for each tier. This increase is effective each March. For example, a three-fourth inch to 1-inch meter (typical for residential homes) base rate went from $10.60 to $11.24. Murray City Code outlines the different base and tiered rates, and the dates of scheduled increases.”

If the tiered system has been in place for several years, why are people just now seeing it impact their bills? The reason may be the new utility billing system; those on equal payment plans are seeing their bills account for the tiered water rates for the first time.

“Yes, especially in October, when the equal payment plans are adjusted based on usage. While being on equal pay is helpful for budgeting expenses, customers still need to be aware of their consumption. If they consume more than their equal pay amount covers, the balance owing will be calculated into the payment amount for the next year, along with the increased average consumption per month,” Heaps said.

Within Murray’s boundaries are three water providers: Murray City, Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District, and Salt Lake City Public Utilities. Salt Lake City water users have already seen their water rates change, while Jordan Valley’s changed the same time as Murray’s.

There has been no state guidance for implementation besides the legislature passing the bill for tiered water rates. Individual water providers developed their own plans. Murray City contracted with Zions Public Finance in 2018 to complete a water rate analysis and assist in developing the tiers and rates.

Further adjustments to Murray residents’ overall utility bills may still happen. Sewer bills, which are not on the tiered system, are based on usage during the winter months. Sewer rates are also on a five-year increase plan, with the most recent change going into effect on Nov. 1. Murray City Code provides the base rate and flow rate charge. 

“Normally, we wouldn’t expect to see a significant increase in sewer charges unless a customer continues to use outdoor water during the winter months or has experienced a leak,” Heaps said.

Murray will re-evaluate their rates in 2022 after its five-year cycle is completed. For now, residents can call City Hall for questions regarding their utility bill.

“Customers can always contact utility billing to discuss their individual bill. Our staff members can answer their questions and make recommendations on ways to reduce consumption, resulting in a lower bill,” Heaps said.