About 100 people showed up at Tuesday's Kennewick Irrigation District special meeting held to reveal details about a proposed new rate structure.
The new assessment system, which is intended to replace the unpopular tiered rate structure imposed in 2009, attempts to identify infrastructure and operational costs for delivering water to various classes of ratepayers, and bill them accordingly.
The goal is to make the assessments fair, said Chuck Freeman, KID secretary-manager.
Fair for some, but not for Pat Sullivan, who claimed he would see his water bill for 14 acres in Badger Canyon take another 100 percent increase under the new rate plan. It would be the second doubling since 2006, when he bought the land.
Saying his irrigation water cost has gone from $650 to $1,500 in five years, it would jump again next year to $2,500.
"I haven't put one drop of KID water on my land. At some point I can't afford to be out here. I have to wonder, what is next?" Sullivan told KID officials who had rented a hall at the Kennewick Red Lion Hotel for the special meeting.
Freeman told Sullivan his number likely would be less, and KID staff were available at the meeting with computers to give more accurate figures.
The new rate structure attempts to ensure equity among ratepayers, Freeman said, noting that some customers will pay more and others less. The proposed new rates are "revenue neutral to KID," he said.
The rates schedule, which was developed by a consultant during almost 18 months at a cost of $86,000, would be phased in over four years, if the KID board adopts it for the 2012 irrigation season.
"This has been a very expensive project, but we can defend the numbers," Freeman said.
Members of the audience were dubious.
Brian Davidson of Kennewick said he already has seen his KID summer irrigation cost go from $120 to $270. "I'd like to know where all this money goes," he said.
Freeman explained that the KID system had deteriorated badly over 20 years, that urban growth had put a lot of demand on operations, and repairs were expensive.
Davidson wryly noted that farmers seemed to control the KID and its board even though urban ratepayers paid most of the costs.
If customers are paying 75 percent of the total, "we ought to have 75 percent of the vote," said Davidson in protesting that elections are decided by owners of large tracts of land who are assigned more votes than smaller lot owners.
The biggest objections, however, came from owners of townhouses who groused that KID is going to start assessing them individually instead of just sending a single bill to each townhouse community's homeowners' association.
Brian Iller, KID's attorney, said state law requires KID to bill them individually, and that KID had done it wrong previously.
Ken Silliman, who lives in a townhouse community, said it didn't make sense that KID would be allowed to collect from each resident when there is no change in how much land is receiving water.
Several people, who didn't identify themselves, called the townhouse assessments program an undeserved windfall for KID.
Pinewood townhouse community resident Bill Frank put it bluntly: "Why assess me when all I own is the footprint of my house and I have no access to KID water?"
KID sent postcard invitations to 22,000 ratepayers, expecting at least a few hundred would attend.
Freeman told the crowd they had hoped for more.
"With only 100 here tonight, it's hard to get the feedback," he said.
The new rate structure is based on what components of the KID water delivery system are used to serve each customer class, such as residential and agricultural, pressurized and nonpressurized.
"Those who use less will pay less," Freeman said.
About 20 people lingered after the meeting to have KID staff with computers look up their new rates under the proposed system.