A new suggestion for water billing in Le Mars will be put to a financial test by city staff and possibly the city water consultant.
Le Mars City Council members asked for the financial information during a meeting Tuesday after hearing a suggestion from Pat Kenaley, of Le Mars.
Water customers would have one water meter instead of a second meter measuring water use which isn't counted for sewer billing, he explained.
The sewer usage charge would be based on an average of the water use in January-March.
He said Sioux City and Dakota Dunes, S.D., use the billing system he described to the council.
Kenaley's proposal is based on his experience living in five states and about 10 communities, he said.
Kenaley spoke to the council during a discussion of changes in the city's water rate regulations, which would also discontinue private meters for outside water use.
All meters in Le Mars would be city-owned.
Those customers who choose a second meter for lawn irrigation or other outside water will be asked to pay for the second meter.
However, the meter would be city-owned and maintained.
Kenaley described the one meter system he was suggesting as simple and one which would save the expense of second water meters.
Information about the impact of Kenaley's suggestion will be presented at the next council meeting which is Jan. 3, 2012.
The city plans to replace all meters over the next three years to assure accurate readings and allow automated meter readings.
Each new meter is estimated to cost $240.
There are currently 1,099 private water meters for outside watering.
Councilman Rex Knapp said he expects only 200-250 customers will ask for meters for outside watering when the three-year meter replacement project is completed.
"I don't think people are going to get hardly any benefit; they probably don't now but they've got it (a private meter) installed or even some people have it and didn't know they had it," Knapp said.
Knapp also compared minimum monthly water bills in the area to Le Mars' rates.
The minimum water bill is $17 in Sioux City, $20 in Sioux Center and in the high teens in South Sioux City Neb.,, he said.
"Our minimum monthly water bill is $12," Knapp said. "We've kept our bills really low."
City Administrator Scott Langel asked whether a one-meter system, with an estimate for sewer billing as Kenaley suggested, would impact sewer revenue.
"What shift in revenue might that cause for our sewer utility?" Langel asked.
Knapp said he was opposed to an estimation for sewer billing.
Assistant City Administrator Bill Cole also had a concern about the one meter proposal.
"I'm afraid it's going to hurt the sewer revenue, that we're going to have to look at a larger rate increase on sewer than we otherwise would," Cole said.
In discussing the private or outside water meter issue, Mayor Dick Kirchoff encouraged Le Mars residents to get specific figures from their water and sewer bills by contacting billing staff at city hall.
He explained they could making comparisons about the use of two water meters versus one.
"In my case, I only can save $57 a year between going to a second meter and not," Kirchoff said. "Needless to say, I am not going to spend $240 for a second meter."
The next council meeting, Jan. 3, would be the third, and possibly, the final consideration of the water rate increase of 5 percent for each of the next three years and a move to all city-owned water meters.