Water Industry News

Elections bring out truth in Rapid City, SD water rates

By Scott Aust, Journal Staff Writer

RAPID CITY -- On Tuesday, Ward 5 voters will choose between incumbent Bob Hurlbut, who is running in his first election, and challenger Rick Kriebel, who has four years of previous Rapid City Council experience.

The council chose Hurlbut last November to serve the remainder of Jeff Partridge's term after Partridge moved out of Ward 5 and had to resign his seat. Kriebel served four years on the council before deciding last spring not to seek re-election.

Hurlbut believes his opponent, Kriebel, will try to make issues out of his votes in favor of water and sewer rate increases and an increase in the city's sales tax rate.

"We had to raise rates to get out of the red ink my opponent put us into," he said. "We had to raise rates because they were not responsibly raised in small increments like they should have been, so we're stuck with a larger increase than we'd like, but we had to do it to rescue the sewer fund in particular."

Hurlbut defends the sales tax increase because it kept water and sewer rate increases from being even higher and also provides money that can be bonded against for major, upcoming infrastructure projects.

"Given the choice between burdening property tax revenues or sales tax revenues, I'll choose sales tax every day of the year because we get almost 50 percent of it from people who benefit from Rapid City and utilize Rapid City services but don't pay property taxes here," he said. "I will do everything I can to not add to the property tax burden of Rapid City taxpayers."

Kriebel said he doesn't believe the city sales tax increase was necessary, though he does acknowledge that water and sewer rates were artificially low and he would have voted to raise them.

"The rates need to be at a responsible place, and I know they're behind. I know they need to go up," Kriebel said.

But that doesn't mean Kriebel will take responsibility for the rates falling behind. That, he says, happened before his time. He said he voted to increase sewer rates from $1 to $1.48 per unit the last time they were raised, though they probably should have been set at $2.

However, Kriebel said he was not a part of council leadership at the time, and staff never brought forward a proposal recommending an increase to $2. And before Kriebel was first elected in 2000, the council approved a water rate increase of 39 percent over five years but didn't address sewer rates.

"We put them where we had to put them. We had already raised (sewer) 48 percent in one increase the last time, which was probably the biggest one ever in the history of Rapid City," Kriebel said. "Basically, what happens in Rapid City is, we ignore things until there's a crisis."

Copyright 2005 The Rapid City Journal
Rapid City, SD