By far the greatest number of complaints that the Water Committee receives have to do with issues of equitability in water fees.
The principle is simple: everyone who benefits from having water piped to their home should pay their fair portion of the costs for the treatment and distribution of that valuable commodity.
Probably the clearest, most blatant and most easily addressed instance of inequitable fees has to do with ADUs. Presently an owner who has a rental ADU with one bath pays for water for that residence as if it’s simply an additional bathroom. So if their primary residence has two baths they would be paying about $69/month in water fees for that and an additional approximately $10/month in water fees for the ADU. In effect, the ADU water is only costing $10/month, while all of the non-ADU residences are paying the full water fee for a 1 bathroom residence: $57.33/month.
It is not unusual for us to be asked, “Why should everyone else subsidize people who happen to be living in ADUs?” And there is no getting around it: the present fee structure, in effect, provides a subsidy for ADU rental units.
Some questions that have come up about charging ADU water fees at the same rate as other equivalent homes:
What about people who own an ADU that they have no intention of renting? Isn’t it unfair to charge them the same rate as another residence?
Yes, we agree. If an owner has no intention of renting an ADU that they own, they can petition the Water Committee to be exempted from the ADU water charge policy. This is written into the resolution.
However, owners whose ADU is only temporarily not rented will not be allowed an exemption.
Wouldn’t it be difficult to ascertain if someone has an ADU?
The wording that we are proposing for the resolution defines an ADU as an additional dwelling unit that has “a bathroom, bedroom, kitchen (they could be combined) and direct access from outside” that is primarily used for access to that dwelling unit. Such ADUs are easily identified.
From a larger perspective, if this is instituted, it is plausible that some people will somehow try to hide their ADUs in order to avoid paying their fees. No matter what we do, or how we attempt to do fee structuring there may be a few individuals who will attempt to cheat the system. And, as we’ve done in the past when we’ve heard about transgressions, we will meet with those individuals and explain to them what the policy is, why it is there, and how we expect them to abide by it.
[There seem to be many analogous examples where people might try to cheat the system: The town receives monies from property taxes, should the town discontinue receiving property taxes because some individuals will cheat on what their true property value is? The town has noise ordinances, nuisance ordinances, gun fire in town ordinances, etc. Should ordinances such as these be rescinded or not passed because some people will not abide by them and won’t be caught?]
If the water utility defines ADUs for the purpose of water fees differently than another town ordinance defines ADUs, doesn’t that create problems?
The wording regarding ADU water fees that we are proposing for Addendum B of the Water Ordinance begins with “For the purposes of water fees an ADU is….” It seems clear that in the Water Ordinance there is no ambiguity about this definition of ADUs, and its separate standing from other definitions of ADUs that may exist in other ordinances. The Water Committee sees no realistic basis to assume that somehow this particular definition of an ADU might harm our ordinance structure.
Doesn’t the ADU ordinance exist to encourage building ADUs so that more people can live in JT? Wouldn’t charging them water fees equivalent to that of other residences discourage people from renting them?
It seems likely that in many cases the monthly cost of water will be passed on to renters. Whenever anyone rents a non-ADU property they usually enter their rental agreement knowing that they are responsible for utilities, including water. It is plausible that there may be a case or two in JT wherein when a renter sees that water here is expensive, they will decide to try to find a rental elsewhere. (Actually, if they go to Nederland or Erie they will likely be charged more for water.) We often hear of potential renters giving up on JT because they are unable to find rentals here – our rental vacancy rate is likely 0% or very close to it. Non-ADU rentals don’t seem to have a higher vacancy rate than ADUs. So, it seems unlikely that JT will have ADUs that are left empty because they are being charged a water rate commensurate with those of other similar residences. And therefore it seems unlikely that charging ADUs the same fees that we charge other residences will result in fewer people in JT.
Isn’t it unfair to a make large raise in fees that only applies to a few people? Why should ADU owners/renters shoulder a disproportionate burden of increase in fees as compared to everyone else?
It is exactly because people made very good arguments that it has been unfair to not charge ADUs on a basis that is commensurate with other rentals and residences that the committee decided to propose this change.
What about people who live in Multiple Dwelling Units, in other words in an apartment complex? These people tend to be low income and would seem to be most impacted by charging ADUs at the same rate other residences are charged.
We have described ADUs that are subject to full water fees as having “direct” access from the outside. Those words “direct access” would exclude the one multiple dwelling unit in Jamestown (above the Merc). Other low income people might complain, “Why do those people get to pay a much lower rate for their water than I pay?” No matter how we design this there will be arguments that it isn’t completely fair to everyone. The proposed definition allows us to easily identify ADUs. And it is true that it allows some of those of us with the most difficult financial situations to continue to have very inexpensive water.
(By the way: renters of ADUs, and others, who find it difficult to adjust to increased rates can apply for reduced water fees if their income is under $20K. [We are asking the Board to increase that threshold to $25K.] If they qualify, they can get a 20% discount on their water fees.)
Bottom line: everyone wishes that water wasn’t such a valuable, hence expensive, commodity. Truth is we are lucky to have a water utility. Few towns of our size do. But that means that we must all chip in as equitably as possible to support it.