Message from Your Chairperson Lisa Krueger December 8, 2023
December 08, 2023
Greetings from sunny Arizona! It is that time of year when the district reflects on the past year and is looking forward to what 2024 will bring. As a board, we have had robust discussions on our rates and expenses for the upcoming year. Last year, implemented an extensive Comprehensive Financial plan developed by Sarah Sesselman from Burian & Associates. Sarah works with many rural water districts across North Dakota and has an excellent grasp on water district’s needs. She presented her Comprehensive Financial planning software program at the National Rural Water Conference in Milwaukee Wisconsin, where it was well received. The value in this comprehensive financial program is that it considers all of our systems infrastructure from when it was put in and its life expectancy. We have a 10-year Capital Improvement Plan to identify what expenses we might incur and when we plan on implementing the replacement of those assets. This is all incorporated with our past financials and is our road map to the future. The board sees the importance of knowing where we are and where we need to go to provide water for future generations.
We have a board member who is strongly advocating for a reduction in our base rate. The proposal is a $20.00 base rate reduction, per month, per user. If you plug this rate reduction into our Comprehensive Financial Plan, this would be a $1.1 million dollar loss in the 1st year and in a 9-year time period North Prairie would be BANKRUPT.
We do have reserves in CD’s and money market accounts earning interest. But realize, to qualify for grant funding, we need to show that we are setting aside money for our local share. Our local share is 25%, but when we take out the ineligible items it’s more like 35 % for our local share., which is our loan portion. We use State Revolving Funds for our loan dollars because the interest rate is low (2.5%), and the term can be up to 30 years. One of the loan requirements is that if we have a yearly payment of $350,000, we must have $350,000 in reserves. If we want to use some of these committed dollars, we will need permission from the State of ND, and then we need to have a plan in place on how we are going to replace those reserves. Our Board member is grouping all our reserve funds together and implying that our reserves are excessive. So, when you look at our financials keep that in mind.
At what point, is it acceptable to raise the water usages rates? 1 year? 3 years? Go bankrupt and then what? We would all love to pay less at the grocery store, the gas station, and for our electricity. Personally, I would love to pay less for my bills. But I also accept that if I want a product, or service, I must pay for them. And if I don’t’ pay for them, I don’t get them.
We are paying less than a penny a gallon for water. Is this really out of line? How much do you pay for a bottle of water? How much does a 16 oz bottle of water cost? Last time I checked it was around $3.00. Our projected gross revenue for 2024 is 7 million dollars. This is only a projection. There are no guarantees. The only way we have of making money is selling water. There are lot of variables. We are projecting expenses of $5.6 million. That leaves a net system income of 1.3 million. This might sound like a lot, but when you realize this could be gone in a day, with pipeline replacement and day to day repairs, and we can’t even discuss the “what if’s regarding our treatment plant.”
We replaced 5.5 miles of 2-inch pipeline this past summer and the cost was over $800,000 dollars. We have 206 miles of pipeline dating back to the 70’s which ranges in size from 1 inch to 8 inch that will need to be replaced in the near future. Can you imagine how much that would cost. We were fortunate to be able to get a 75% grant on that 5.5 miles. There are 14 users in that 5.5 miles. Without those grant dollars how would we make that work? The board has and is making sound business decisions based on facts not speculation.
Water Districts are each unique. Water Districts share common ground because they were all created under the ND Century Code. But that is it. There are many variables; types of users, number of users, Districts area coverage (population served), miles of pipe, when they were created. NPRWD is the second oldest water district in the State of ND. It was formed in the seventies when glued pipe was all that was available. This pipe is over 50 years old. We have strategically begun replacing it, 44 miles down 206 to go. This board member recently stated we just replaced 5.5 miles of pipe for 800,000 this past summer, why don’t we replace the other 32 miles right now because we have the 4.8 million to do so. In the first place it is not 32 miles it’s 206 miles. To replace all this pipe at one time and assuming that it was all 2 inch which it is not, it would cost 28,500,000 million. All these variables make each one of us have different rate structures, and you cannot compare one district to another. Why do you ask? Because you don’t know their story, or the answers to the above listed variables. It’s like comparing Apples to Oranges.
This Board member has also stated that we are not a utility company. We are not a utility company governed by the Public Service Commission. We are a Water District created by the State of ND governed by the North Dakota Century Code 61-35-01, created with the intent that potable water should be available in sufficient quality and quantity to meet citizens' needs for healthy and safe standard of living and to promote economic growth and development. The North Prairie board has followed the legislature’s intent, and has provided a safe, quality potable water source to meet the citizen’s needs, which has provided economic growth and development in our region. We provide a service, if you want water you sign up and if you don’t it’s your choice. This is not a monopoly. We do not receive any tax dollars and the grant dollars that we have received come from the Water Resource Trust Fund which is funded by the oil industry tax. Not personal taxes.
What other service or product business has reduced their cost in the last 5 years? None that I am aware of. Businesses don’t try to intentionally go backwards. Our past and present board members and employees have all worked hard to ensure that NPRWD continues to grow and remain financially sound.