Kuna City Council members held their first workshop last week in an effort to fix the city’s tangled system of assessing commercial sewer connections.
The city is trying to fix a problem in its method of assessing sewer connections that has led to wildly varying charges to businesses to hook into the city’s sewer system as well as the monthly sewer bill each business pays.
The issue arose out of a dispute last year between the city of Kuna and now-Mayor Greg Nelson, the owner of Creekside, which houses the Creekside Lounge and Peregrine Steaks & Spirits, 751 W. Fourth St.
According to the city’s “equivalent dwelling unit” table, or EDU table, the Creekside should have been assessed 12 EDU’s based on the number of seats in the bar and restaurant, rather than the two EDU’s the building was relying on.
After analyzing the building’s water usage, City Council members determined the Creekside should have been assessed four EDU’s — which is more than what the Creekside was paying for but far less than the 12 called for in the EDU table.
Similarly, an analysis of other businesses showed that their assessments were “all over the board.”
The first problem the city has to tackle is to fix the table so that the table more accurately reflects what a real assessment would be based on usage. The trouble is that when a business opens up, it’s impossible to know what the water and sewer usage will be. So there has to be some sort of standardized method of calculating an assessment — whether that be square footage, type of use, number of seats, maximum capacity or a combination of all.
To that end, city engineer Gordon Law researched several ways that sewer connections are determined in other places around the country.
He collected data from such places as “Small Flows Quarterly” (yes, there is such a publication and no, I don’t subscribe to it) and the Idaho Technical Guidance Manual.
Applying those calculations to an example in Kuna’s EDU table, Law demonstrated that a restaurant, such as the Creekside, would be assessed just about the same as what the city’s existing EDU table calls for. In other words, an assessment of 12 EDU’s for the Creekside would have been about right based on some other standard tables.
Law also looked at other entities, such as Burbank, Calif.; Coconino, Ariz.; the Arizona Administrative Code; Vancouver, Wash.; and Savannah, Ga.
An examination of those other assessments showed wildly varying ways of assessing. Some, such as Coconino and Burbank showed a similar result as Kuna’s. Others show much lower assessments.
An interesting side note: Law also looked at the EDU table in La Pine, Ore., where former Kuna planning director Steve Hasson went to become city manager. It was Hasson, recall, who sent letters to Nelson saying the Creekside owed $36,600 for 10 additional EDU’s in Kuna. La Pine’s EDU assessment right now for a restaurant? One.
In the end, City Council members directed Law to tweak the existing table to come up with more reliable and realistic numbers based on Kuna’s history of usage. Law will also have to balance that out with making sure the city’s sewer fund is adequately funded to account for maintenance and operations as well as future growth.