Port Townsend utility customers to see higher rates

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — Utility rates will increase Aug. 1, with the rise reflected in the September bill, the Port Townsend City Council decided in a 5-1 vote this week.

The action approved the hike to come in three increments: in August, next January and January 2015.

The increase in water and sewer rates is needed to pay for a mandated UV filtering system, a reservoir upgrade and other infrastructure improvements, according to city officials.

Councilman Bob Gray opposed the increase, while Mayor David King, Deputy Mayor Kris Nelson, and council members Michelle Sandoval, Deborah Stinson and Catharine Robinson voted for it. Council member Mark Welch was not present.

Gray proposed a town meeting to study the effects of higher utility rates.

“We have experts coming in all the time telling us we can raise the rates, but we don’t know what the impact will be,” Gray said.

“I suggest that we get some experts in here who can tell the other side, such as how many shutoffs we will have when we have a rate increase.”

The council also deferred action on the purchase of an automated metering interface until more information about the system can be gotten.

The utility rate hike will mean an average increase of $12 per household based on the average residential use of 3,000 gallons of water monthly.

The average monthly residential bill for sewer service and 3,000 gallons of water will rise from $80.06 to $92.54 this year.

It will increase to $101.60 in 2014, $108.69 in 2015, $109.82 in 2016, $110.59 in 2017 and $118.88 in 2018.

The increase also includes a $5 monthly surcharge to subsidize capital projects, which could rise as high as $14 in 2018.

That could end up being considerably less if the treatment facility can be built for less than the present projection of $7.1 million — which depends on the city’s ability to secure low-interest loans, according to City Manager David Timmons.

Gray said in his objection that the utility rate included allowances for low-income families that were not publicized.

“We only have 4.25 percent of our customers taking advantage of these rates, while our poverty rate is at 13 percent,” Gray said.

“For some reason, the word isn’t getting out.”

There was some discord at the meeting.

King asked whether Gray had “have anything to contribute except delay to this issue,” while Gray said that King was the cause of the delay for his recommendation of further study of the metering system.

Said Sandoval: “If we have more delays, that’s not going to change what we need to do.

“We still need to do the UV, the reservoir and improve our infrastructure,” she said.

“They are not going away.”

Timmons said that the delays so far have helped the situation, as the city was able to implement rate increases that were less severe than projected.

This effort was lauded by Nelson, who said she wasn’t always convinced that Timmons was on the right track.

“David did a ton of different things. He’d cut a half a million dollars here and squeeze the budget there, and I was one of the first ones to say, ‘what are you doing?’” she said.

“I didn’t like what he was doing at all, but in the end, he really did save us a lot of money, so I’m sorry I doubted you so much,” she told Timmons.

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 02. 2013 6:12PM
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