=I joined the Basin Water and Sewer Board in March of 2015 along with MJ Williams. At that time, the three-member Board was in the process of raising the rates to help position the water system for improvements and to help qualify for state and federal funds. When I recently reread the minutes of those first meetings I attended, I am struck by how the District is still facing the same problems we faced back then some six years ago. Ron Hale, the operator in training at the time, frequently brought up the fact that the town was using four times the amount of water daily for a community as small as Basin. Over the past six years we have fixed a lot of leaks and dealt with the many problems that come with an aging water system that we were told had a lifespan of 40 years. It is now 46-years old. I know, I was living in Basin at the time the first system was installed. The cost of a water system replacement runs in the millions of dollars these days.
To that point we knew that we had to start positioning the District to qualify for loans and grants for an eventual system replacement. Nothing happens overnight when researching grants and loans or when applying for them. We met with a professional to help us to develop equitable rates. We worked with Midwest Assistance to update our by-laws and ordinances. We hired an accountant to straighten out our financials on QuickBooks which she did with the help of our new clerk who produced the hard copy documents needed to back-up and clarify any errors that were made in QuickBooks. At the end of that process, the Board and the accountant saw no evidence of embezzlement or impropriety from the previous clerk.
Water meters first appeared on our meeting agendas in March of 2017 when we realized that many state agencies require them or consider them a particularly important tool for moving ahead with funding. In the years that followed we did not hear any concerns from community members about them until we secured a DNRC State Revolving Fund Loan that forgives half of the total money we requested –$392,000/ half is $196,000 at 2.5%. These loans are hard to come by and I credit our former clerk, Nissa Manley, in her efforts to work with DNRC, DEQ and Great West Engineering to secure this loan. Three people from the community showed up to an advertised informational meeting that Nissa organized about the State Revolving Fund plan for water meters and the well project. This money was to be used for addressing the curbstops in Basin, most of which were not working properly, and replace them with water meters that we subsequently learned had shut off valves. It was also slated to be used to put the old pump on Quartz Street back in business. This latter project got shelved because of a lead packer in the pipe sleeve that DEQ said would require an expensive fix.
DNRC required that we demonstrate we could pay this loan back through our rate structure. We had many meetings and discussions about how to keep rates low or the same for regular paying customers and finally came up with a plan that spread the cost out among all property owners within the District by including lots without curbstops. These lots would be charged $12/month or $144/year. There was no comment from the public during this time. Rate structure was an agenda item.
A rate structure notice was sent out to each customer and a 30-day notice was posted for a rate increase and we approved the rate increase at the April 2020 Board meeting. Thirteen members of the public attended this meeting. Two people asked why we needed meters. Three people voiced concern about seasonal rates and one person needed to clarify his understanding of the rates. One person wanted to know when the rates would go into effect. Their questions were all answered. No one opposed the meters or the rate structure.
At subsequent meetings, a group of community members came to demand that we stop these proceedings. We were surprised since we had heard nothing from the community prior to the meetings concerning water meters and the loan. Water meters and Great West Engineering had been on our agendas for years. Board members and our clerk/certified water and sewer operator had worked hard to research and move this project ahead for the betterment of the community’s water system. We included professional advisors at many of these meetings to answer any questions.
In my opinion, this group did not want to listen to hard facts and reasonable explanations about why we spent years trying to help improve our aging water system and position the town for the major loans we will need down the road for the system replacement. They came with an agenda at the 11th hour — cease and desist.
In the end, no volunteer Board member should ever have to subject themselves to disrespectful and abusive accusations, anonymous letters and emails. I find it sad that most of the people who signed my recall petition I have never seen at a water and sewer Board meeting. Two people I talked to said they had no idea they were signing a recall petition.
Is the former Board infallible? No. We are after all human beings. Setting a new higher rate for regular users without public notice was an oversight. I personally apologize for that. In the process of trying to placate lot owners we made regular customers unhappy — a no win situation.
I am proud of the work I and my fellow Board members accomplished as a volunteer for the Basin Water and Sewer District.
I sincerely wish the next Basin Water and Sewer Board the best of luck in preparing for and moving our water and sewer system into the future.
— Joy Lewis, Former board member, Basin Water and Sewer District