Maui County water customers — including residents, farmers, businesses and hotels — could see increases to their water bills in the coming months as the county seeks to up funding for operations and projects.
Typical single-family households could see their water bill go up by $6 a month and hotels and resorts could also be charged a new rate of $8.12 per 1,000 gallons of water usage.
Hotels and resorts currently fall into a category with other businesses that charges anywhere from $2.05 per 1,000 gallons for the lowest water consumption and up to $5.85 per 1,000 gallons for the highest water consumption, such as customers that use more than 15,000 gallons per month.
The new rates are included in the Maui County fiscal year 2024 budget being considered by the Maui County Council on first reading on Tuesday. If the budget is passed on second and final reading at a future meeting, the new rates take effect July 1, but the rates for hotels and resorts will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2024, said Maui County Water Director John Stufflebean.
“If we look at our expected expenditures for next year, they are more than our expected revenue, and that’s just for operating expenditures. So there would be no money at all for capital improvements,” Stufflebean said on Thursday. “We need the rate increase to be able to generate enough revenue to cover our operating cost and to start also addressing building revenues for the capital improvement projects.”
Stufflebean added that the water rate increases are expected to generate around $10 million in additional revenue which will first go toward rising operating costs then toward capital improvement projects.
The new hotel and resort rates are not factored into the $10 million anticipated revenue, as he said those properties may reduce water in light of the new rates, so the department will need some time to verify if they will get additional revenue from those properties.
Stufflebean said that the department is only supported by the revenue it generates and does not receive money from the county’s general fund.
Mayor Richard Bissen’s administration did not propose the new rates for hotels and resorts in his version of the budget, but Stufflebean said it was part of an initiative by the Maui County Board of Water Supply. Some of the water board’s duties include recommending the establishment and adjustment of rates and charges for furnishing water, according to its website.
Stufflebean said the administration supported the board’s proposals.
Also in favor was Maui County Council Member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who advocated for the proposed change during the council’s Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee review of the budget this spring. The proposal was unanimously recommended.
Rawlins-Fernandez has long sought the change.
“The goal of the new category is to encourage conservation, promote equity, and nudge the resort industry to improve their water reuse infrastructure, which will reduce the county’s urgency and cost of developing new water sources,” Rawlins-Fernandez said in a text message on Wednesday afternoon.
She pointed out that some resorts have a private water provider that charges around double what the county currently charges hotels and resorts and yet those accommodations are still in business.
Rawlins-Fernandez said that many of the top 20 water users in the county are hotels and resorts, with Grand Wailea being one of the biggest users among the resorts.
According to information from a Board of Water Supply Temporary Investigative Group that looked into rate structures for the Department of Water Supply, the Grand Wailea was the third largest water user at more than 168 million gallons in fiscal 2021, behind the state Department of Education at more than 217 million gallons and the county Department of Parks and Recreation at more than 268 million gallons.
Stufflebean said that even with the proposed water rate increases, Maui County has the lowest water rates in the state.
He did not anticipate any issues with the new rate schedule for hotels and resorts.
In an email statement Thursday afternoon, J.P. Oliver, managing director of Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, said: “Grand Wailea is deeply committed to preserving Maui’s precious natural resources, and we have made significant strides to implement a comprehensive water conservation plan that has reduced average daily water usage by 62 percent since 2017.”
Grand Wailea has moved from being the highest water user in fiscal 2018 to third highest in fiscal 2021, according to the TIG report.
Oliver did not address Grand Wailea’s stance on the proposed hotel water rates.
State and local hotel industry officials either declined or could not be reached for comment on the proposed hotel and resort water rates.
To view the new proposed rates, visit https://mauicounty.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx and click on “meeting details” for the regular Maui County Council on May 23. Click on CR 23-34 and see pages 183 and 184 of the committee report to view the proposed rates.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.