By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau
HILO, Hawaii After hearing Big Island farmers oppose an increase in water rates, the Hawaii County Water Board yesterday delayed a vote on such a plan.
Under a recommendation from its rate consultant, the board was prepared to approve a five-year program that would raise water rates by 22 percent in April and by 17 percent more in July 2003.
But board member John Tolmie of Hilo, who said he believes all industries should pay a fair share of the cost for delivering water, asked for the vote delay yesterday.
Also, board member John Clark of Puna said the consultants study is "flawed" because it had inadequate data about farm water use.
It was the second time this month the water board deferred action after hearing from nervous farmers.
Tolmie said after the meeting he does not know when the rate plan will be put on the agenda again.
No one spoke in favor of the new rates, but coffee and macadamia nut growers in Kona, and flower and foliage operators in Puna and Hilo, told the board they cannot afford the increases.
Many said they cannot reduce water use and cannot afford to raise the price of their products because of overseas competition. Some also said costs for land and fertilizers also are rising and their profit margins are shrinking.
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