Hot topic: Dispute between Jamestown, Stutsman Rural Water boils overVoices were raised in anger at times Monday during a joint meeting between members of Stutsman Rural Water District and representatives of the city of Jamestown. But the sides did find some common ground during the contentious meeting.
By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun
Voices were raised in anger at times Monday during a joint meeting between members of Stutsman Rural Water District and representatives of the city of Jamestown. But the sides did find some common ground during the contentious meeting.
At issue is who should provide water utility services to the area around Jamestown Regional Medical Center including the site of Titan Machinery now under construction. Stutsman Rural Water District maintains that federal and state law gives it the authority to serve the region. Jamestown maintains Rural Water signed over the territory in previous agreements.
Both sides accused each other of not negotiating in good faith.
“Jamestown feels it has been stabbed because Rural Water is not living up to previous contracts,” Mayor Katie Andersen said, raising her voice. “How do I know anything you will sign will be honored?”
Andersen also talked about Rural Water’s future plans.
“That is another thing,” she said. “You have a lot of potential projects that are under consideration …”
Her comments were cut off by Geneva Kaiser, manager of Stutsman Rural Water District, who called the statement a threat.
Joel Lees, member of the Rural Water board, said he was concerned by threats by the city to Rural Water’s funding.
“I’m just a single person on the board,” he said. “But if we hear of any more going behind our back to stop funding to the folks at Woodworth I will recommend we stop further negotiations.”
Andersen said she had attended a funding subcommittee of the North Dakota Water Coalition on another topic.
“I simply said that I wanted them to be aware of conflicts between the city and Rural Water,” she said. “I did not say not to fund your projects.”
Eric Volk, executive director of the North Dakota Rural Water System Association, told the Sun Andersen requested funding be withheld from Rural Water during a NDRWSA subcommittee meeting.
“When she said funding should be withheld from Stutsman Rural Water, it got my attention quick,” he told The Sun in a Dec. 5 interview. “Withholding funding from projects that provide water to areas like Woodworth and Streeter over a dispute just outside Jamestown seemed excessive.”
Lees said Monday the two groups should continue to work out the problem.
“Let’s negotiate this out,” he said. “But let’s be clean about this.”
The two sides discussed paying a royalty fee to Stutsman Rural Water while Jamestown provided water service, although they differed greatly on how much that should be.
“We propose the city provide water and infrastructure to the area and pay a financial compensation to Rural Water,” Andersen said. “We would add 2 percent to the water bills in that area and pay those funds to Rural Water.”
That amounts to about 6 cents per 1,000 gallons of water based on the city’s charge of about $3 per 1,000 gallons, according to Jeff Fuchs, city administrator.
Kaiser countered that the accounts closest to Jamestown were the most profitable and helped keep water costs lower for all its patrons. She reiterated a suggested royalty of $1.50 per 1,000 gallons that the district had proposed in October.
“The water in question would be at little extra cost as far as staff and equipment,” said Steve Harris, attorney for Rural Water. “It is much more valuable than 2 percent.”
City Attorney Ken Dalsted asked if the Rural Water proposal of a fee per 1,000 gallons used could be converted to a percentage.
“The $1.50 per thousand is way beyond what the city can afford to pay,” he said. “Is there a number between 2 percent and $1.50?”
No one responded to his question.
Both sides said they wanted a solution but neither proposed any compromise offer.
Leaders of both sides said they wanted to resolve the issue.
“We want to reach a compromise without going to court,” Andersen said. “Provided that it is a formula that meets the needs of both sides.”
Kaiser said compromise is possible.
“We can’t have both sides have their way,” she said. “No reason we can’t come to an agreement but we have to protect our customers.”
Meetings for future negotiations are anticipated but not scheduled as of press time.
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452
or by email at email@example.com