The Hailey City Council voted Monday to approve a reduced fee for public parks irrigation, a move that is expected to save the city $80,000 per year.

As a result, other water users will see their fees increase about 6.9 percent to make up for the resulting shortfall in the water budget.

“This money will go into our general fund and the city can allocate it any way we want,” Mayor Fritz Haemmerle said. “If anyone has great ideas for how it is spent, come to our budget hearings.”

Because Hailey parks are very large, the city’s tiered-rate water fee structure has assessed the city at the top rate for much of the irrigation season.

Water metering and the tiered-rate structure were implemented to incentivize water conservation by increasing the cost per 1,000 gallons for the highest-volume users, including the city, schools and other high-volume water consumers.

Public Works Director Brian Yeager, who has pushed for the change in recent weeks, said the city has been unfairly charged high rates because parks are used by many people each year.

The new rate for the city will be based on a hypothetical number of residential lots that could be built on each city park, thereby theoretically breaking up a single high-volume fee into smaller portions to keep them at a lower rate.

Keefer Park, for example, would accommodate 37.5 city lots, Yeager said.

The city will remain an individual water consumer, but its water cost each summer will decrease according to the new formula. Rates for all other water buyers will be increased, though City Councilman Pat Cooley said paying the 6.9 percent increase through monthly bills would “lessen the impact” by spreading it out over the entire year.

Hailey resident Peter Lobb said the new formula was a “sneaky way” for the city to save money.

“If it’s good for the city, why is not also good for people who irrigate six or eight city lots?” Lobb asked.

Yeager said money saved by the city could be used to fix concrete at the Hailey skatepark and also create more water-saving measures, including the installation of underground irrigation on planting strips along Woodside Boulevard.

The city’s water budget of roughly $1.1 million is used to run the water system.

“So, if water consumption is reduced even more, that will raise my water fees again,” Hailey resident Bob MacLeod said.

The council agreed.

MacLeod told the council that many residents, especially on corner lots, irrigate city rights of way to keep them green but that they will not benefit from the special rate.

“And they are doing the city a service,” he said.

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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