Borough takes right steps to keep utility funds healthy

Borough officials and elected assembly members are right: Wrangell’s municipally owned-and-operated utilities and services need to pay their own way. Not happy news for residents — but it’s honest news.

For far too long, Wrangell has been overly dependent on federal and state gifts to pay for needed repairs and rebuilds while looking to avoid rate increases. Those are not answers, they’re examples of hopeful denial, and the borough is making the right moves to change direction.

The assembly has approved rate increases effective July 1 for electrical, trash pickup, water and sewage services, and for port and harbors services. All of which are “enterprise funds,” meaning they are supposed to collect enough from users to cover operating expenses, maintenance, repairs and future needs.

But none the funds are self-sustaining when accounting for depreciation of assets — equipment, fixtures and machinery get older and eventually will need replacement. Collecting something every month toward those inevitable expenses will reduce the shock when the bill comes due in the future.

Pay now or pay later, and later will be harder if the community has to come up with all of the money at once.

Yes, a lot of residents may strain to pay the higher utility costs starting this summer. Which means hard decisions for many households as they look at their bills, their income and their checkbook. No one likes to have less money to spend. But running the utility funds without collecting enough for unexpected repairs and future expenses is not a responsible option.

The deteriorating Public Safety Building — suffering water and rot damage as it nears its 40th birthday — is painfully clear evidence that ignoring a problem does not fix anything. As the borough has talked for years about what to do with the critically important facility, the rebuilding cost for the wood-frame structure keeps rising. The borough still hopes for federal or state assistance.

The community can bank on hope only so much. As uncomfortable as the utility rate hikes are to some people, they are the responsible answer to maintaining the services for future years.

— Wrangell Sentinel


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