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Status quo maintained for water sprinkling

The current system for billing for water usage for sprinkling will remain in place.

But the Bemidji City Council voted on Monday to offer residents the opportunity to pay 12 equal payments, interest-free, to the city to cover the cost of the water meter.

Residents are charged for sanitary sewer use based on the amount of their water usage -- the city of Bemidji has offered a sprinkling "discount" that takes into consideration the amount of water used for sprinkling and other outdoor needs, but the resident must purchase a second water meter and pay for its installation.

The cost for the sprinkler is about $125 and installation costs range from $125 to about $325 depending on the situation, according to information presented during Monday's council meeting.

The council last discussed the issue in August, during which time Markeson asked staff to look into alternatives to the current plan, such as a computer program or whether residents could be charged for summertime water usage based on the wintertime usage.

City Manager John Chattin told the council that having the second water meter was the most accurate way of calculating water usage for sprinkling.

"You could look at it as an investment," he said, explaining that residents save money on their water bills that cover the cost of the additional meter.

Markeson said he was disappointed that city staff did not present an alternative plan to the current system.

"I think we have to find a more appropriate way to charge people," he said. "Or to not charge people."

Chattin said it was possible for the city to bill based on water usage during non-summer months, but that plan would have "inherent problems."

There are residents who leave the city to go south for the winter who have no water usage during wintertime months. He also questioned how the 170-some residents who already have purchased and installed the second water meter would react if the city changed its policy.

"We can't do a dual system without extension staff time," Chattin said.

Councilor Nancy Erickson said she is concerned about those who have already paid for the second water meter and its installation. She echoed Chattin's statement that the second meter is an "investment."

Markeson countered that there are retirees and others in the community who do not want to pay the up-front costs to save money over the long-term.