By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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PORT ANGELES — The total utility bill for an average city ratepayer could rise slightly more than $17 per month if City Council members approve rate increases recommended by a city consultant.
The decision-making process is just beginning, however, and residents will have at least two chances to comment on proposed increases at council meetings in October and November before members vote on changes to come into effect Jan. 1.
Financial consultant FCS Group, based in Redmond, presented the results of a months-long utility cost-of-service study to council members during a work session Tuesday night.
Overall, the consultants recommended a 6.6 percent increase, or a $17.08 hike in the total monthly utility bill of an average city residential ratepayer.
This would bring an average residential customer's bill from $258.85 per month to $275.93, an increase of $204.94 per year.
An average residential ratepayer gets weekly garbage pickup and yard waste collection, and uses 1,500 kilowatt hours of electricity, 450 cubic feet of water and more than 430 cubic feet of wastewater per month.
Phil Lusk, the city's deputy director of power and telecommunication systems, said the effect on an average commercial utility customer was not specifically determined.
Proposed commercial utility rate percentage increases, however, are roughly the same except in the wastewater utility.
The biggest chunk of the recommended total utility bill increase comes from the proposed electric rate hike.
On average, electricity rates are recommended to rise about $7 per month, an increase of roughly 6.5 percent.
That $7 per month is roughly 42 percent of the total proposed $17-per-month increase, said Craig Fulton, the city's public works and utilities director, and is due mostly to an increase in the rate the city pays the Bonneville Power Administration.
The consulting firm used data on the cost of running each of the city's four major utilities to determine how much each rate would have to increase to pay for maintenance, operation and replacement.
“The question of the city's renewal and replacement of its infrastructure is a large part of the upcoming budget discussions,” Lusk said.
Fulton said the recommended rates are a way for the city to partially recoup the costs of replacing utility infrastructure without drastically increasing the cost to ratepayers.
“It's kind of a balancing act of looking to the future and trying to support our present as well,” Fulton said.
Angie Sanchez Virnoche, one of the owners of FCS Group, told council members the proposed increases also are partially designed to cover residents who are not able to pay some or all of their utility bills.
Deputy Mayor Brad Collins said he thought higher rates to cover those who cannot pay could potentially create more who can't pay.
“Won't we keep increasing the rates until nobody can pay?” Collins asked.
Councilwoman Sissi Bruch said inadequate funding for improvements could force future councils to impose even higher rates.
“I don't know exactly what to do about that, but I'm not comfortable with that at all,” Bruch said.
Recommendations were made for wastewater, garbage and water.
Wastewater rates for those using more than 430 cubic feet of water per month would increase by about $4.50, or about 6.7 percent, and by about 6.5 percent for residents using less than 430 cubic feet of water per month.
Weekly garbage pickup service would increase $2.09 per month from $30.65 to %32.74, an increase of about 6.8 percent.
Every-other-week garbage service could go from $19.75 to $20.35 per month, an increase of about 3 percent.
“[The] every-other-week rate is trying to be incentivized,” Sanchez Virnoche told council members. “We're making up the difference in the weekly rate.”
Under the recommendations, residents using about 450 cubic feet of water per month would see a $1.99 increase, about a 5.5 percent increase.
The city has contracted with FCS Group to pay a maximum of $145,876 for the cost of the service study, Lusk said.
As of the end of August, the city had paid just more than $84,057 to the firm, Lusk added.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.