Survey set to impact water rates

People living within Hettinger City limits may have noticed a survey that came with their water bill. The City of Hettinger is highly encouraging people to respond.

Frank Turner

If not enough people respond, water utility bills could rise significantly for the entire town of Hettinger.
City Surveyor Shirley Brentrup said, “We need as many people as possible to respond to the survey for it to be valid.”
The ultimate goal of the survey is to help pay for lagoon repairs.
For months, Cell 3 of the Hettinger Lagoon has been leaking and is in need of repair.
In late summer, the city hopes to fix the broken lagoon’s broken clay liner, however, the repair project will be incredibly expensive. It is estimated that the repairs will cost the city a half million dollars.
To reduce the extreme cost, the City of Hettinger applied for a $100,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), however in their application, they ran into an issue.
At the start of the lagoon project, the City of Hettinger was eligible to receive the $100,000 grant because, according to 2010 HUD census data, a majority of Hettinger households were considered Low/Moderate Income (LMI).
However, as the city applied for the grant in 2019, the HUD census data was updated. After the update, the city was no longer eligible to receive the grant.
From 2010 to 2018, 51.06 percent of Hettinger was considered LMI. Now with the update, only 45.96 percent are considered LMI.
Brentrup said that the census data is just an estimate and the city can use a survey to get more accurate data, if enough people respond.
City Council Member James Lindquist explained, “The city has already been awarded the grant, but we can’t actually receive the grant unless the city meets the requirement of Low/Moderate Income. If we can qualify, we get the money.”
Now, to receive grant funding, Hettinger has to prove it is actually above 51 percent LMI by completing a survey.
The survey that people found in their water bills could make the city eligible and could reduce up to 25 percent of the lagoon repair costs. Even still, the survey itself is a risk.
“The big risk is that we are going to be spending around $1,000 to $2,000 to run this survey. But if we can get everyone surveyed and the results come back favorable, we will get the grant,” said Lindquist. “If we don’t fight for the survey number to prove that we are low/moderate then the option to get the grant money is gone.”
Lindquist explained that the best-case scenario for the city is that enough people respond to the survey and prove that Hettinger is Low/Moderate Income. If Hettinger’s HUD number is above 51%, then the city is eligible for the grant, which, in turn, will offset the costs of the lagoon repair project.
The worst-case scenario for the city is that not enough people respond and the money spent on conducting the survey is wasted. To offset lagoon repair costs, the city would have to raise water prices significantly.
Either way, the city has eventual plans to raise water rates to make up for lagoon repairs. Earlier in the year, the city raised water rates in anticipation for the repair costs. Even still, Hettinger has one of the lowest water bills in the entire state of North Dakota, according to Lindquist.
Lindquist said that the city counsel is trying to keep rates as low as possible given the circumstance.
“Hopefully we won’t have to raise our water bill too high,” he said. “Obviously with doing this repair, we are going to have to raise our water bills a little bit, but we still want to keep it low.”
As of June 24th, only 65% of the people needed have responded to the survey. 256 people that live within city limits have responded to the surveys, but for the surveys to be valid, the city needs 141 more people to respond.
“We need people to fill out this survey to get this grant, because that determines to what extent we raise the water bill,” said Lindquist. “Please do the survey. If you don’t want your water bill to go up, please help us get this grant money.”