By: Julia Deng
JAL - Ratepayers could soon be hit with a significant hike on water bills.
However, the money would go toward something Jal "desperately needs," said city officials: new water lines.
"The lines in town are [more than] 50 years old and we're starting to see a lot of problems with them," said Mayor Cheryl Chance.
She cited leaks and poor water pressure among their top concerns.
A possible solution is currently in the works. The city could receive $11.3 million from the USDA Rural Development program during the coming weeks to upgrade their water infrastructure.
$6.3 million would act as grant money and would not need to be repaid, said Chance. However, Jal would need to repay the remaining $5 within 40 years - and the government is charging interest.
"[It] figures out to about $235,000 a year that the city will have to repay [the USDA]," Chance told NewsWest 9.
If the loan-grant goes through, ratepayers will see an increase of $8 on their monthly water bills beginning July 1 - a rate hike of $96 for the year. They currently pay a base rate of $18 each month.
"And then on July 1, 2016, we'll increase [the base rate] another $5," said Chance. "And then on July 1, 2017, another $5."
City officials said the monthly base rate will not surpass $36.
Several residents told NewsWest 9 they would consider leaving Jal if the proposed rate hikes became a reality. One man estimated he was already shelling out "more than $100 a month" for water.
However, another Jal resident recognized several benefits of the USDA grant, including the potential for improved water pressure and conservation.
"I can't speak for everyone here, but it could be good," said Logan Ray Smith. "I have noticed [the water pressure] drop lately... Hopefully they fix it."
Chance, City Manager Bob Gallagher and other Jal officials are "confident" the city will receive the $11.3 million loan-grant.
"We've been working on this for two years," the mayor told NewsWest 9. "I think it's very likely that we'll get it."
Although residents will not have an opportunity to vote on the issue, a public forum will be held - likely on or around May 28, said Chance - to address questions and concerns.