Eagle Mountain residents concerned over high cost of utilities

Published: Monday, Feb. 11 2013 8:10 p.m. MST

Taxpayers in Eagle Mountain say they've seen skyrocketing utility bills in the past few months, and they want to know where the money is going.

Mike Anderson, Deseret News

EAGLE MOUNTAIN — Residents in this northwest Utah County city say their utility bills are too high, and they want to know exactly what they're paying for.

It turns out part of those funds are going toward city salaries, a fairly common — and legal — practice in Utah.

Eagle Mountain resident Beth Ann Coulter said she was out of the state for most of January and was surprised by the amount due on her city utility bills.

"So when my heat is set at 62 degrees, and then I get a bill for $494, there is something wrong there," Coulter said, adding that he also had a $400 water bill.

"I'd like to know where those numbers are coming from," she said. "Why don't you (the city) let me know on my bills how much I'm using?"

Some residents are so frustrated with the cost of utilities that they are calling for a reorganization of government. On Sunday, Sam Allen led the group as the voice of what he calls the "Eagle Mountain utility scandal." A little more than a year ago, Allen started looking into his rising bill.

"I started adding up my bills over a 12-month period and totaling up my additional costs over the market's rates," he said. "I noticed I was paying an extra $640 a year."

Allen claims the city is violating Utah's transparency laws by not putting its rates on utility bills and that he is paying 15 percent more than the market average.

According to Eagle Mountain city administrator Ifo Pili, the city keeps its utility bills brief, which may exclude the rate, for cost.

"The rates haven’t changed,” Eagle Mountain Mayor Heather Jackson said Monday. “They've been exactly the same and have been for several years. … Last year, we had an unseasonably warm year, so we didn't get that spike that we typically see. It’s the record cold, since 1949, so obviously, (utility bills are) larger than usual.”

Eagle Mountain supplies both gas and electricity, as well as water, sewer and sanitation. It has a higher base rate than many other cities put in place to pay off $50 million in bonds that were issued when the young city incorporated.

"We just want our money to go where it's supposed to go," resident Laura Andreasen said.

Andreasen started a Facebook page for Eagle Mountain residents that has become flooded with complaints. Similar comments and concerns also have been posted on the city website.

Not all of the money goes directly toward utilities.

"For example, all of our utility billing clerks are paid out of our general fund,” the mayor said.

Eagle Mountain isn't the only city to cover general funds out of the utilities coffer.

"That system isn't quite as transparent perhaps as the truth in taxation system, but it's something that's long been a part of state code and is quite common across all of the Utah cities,” said Royce Van Tassel, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association.

Van Tassel said his group is looking into residents' concerns but warns that people should reserve judgment until all the information is out.

City leaders will hold a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday to address residents' concerns. The state auditor also is expected to look into the matter.

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