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City OKs bump in utility rates
The City of Sequim’s 2014 budget worth $55.3 million centered around the city hall and police department project is a go.
But new utility rates didn’t sit right with a few city councilors on Nov. 25. They voted 4-3 in favor of next year’s new fees including a 4 percent utility rate increase. The average resident would pay $1.09 more for water and $2.02 more for sewer per month starting in January.
Mayor Ken Hays, who was part of a committee to discuss the rate changes, said the revenue was needed to maintain the city’s current water/sewer infrastructure and that the committee was unable to come to a consensus on what to change because the utility rate process is complicated and they would need more time to evaluate it.
Part of the city’s long-term utilities proposal slates a 4 percent increase each year over five years.
Elray Konkel, city administrative services director, said not raising rates could lead to deferring needed repairs and renovations of water and sewer services.
Councilor Genaveve Starr, also a part of the utility committee, said she’s confident that after this year and with more time to investigate, the city should be able to avoid an increase at that 4% rate annually.
Paul Haines, public works director, said the increase is partly to account for 2.5% rate of inflation and to catch up on capital projects.
Since 2006, a single-family rate payer has seen the base water rate go up by 27.3% or $17.45 base in 2006 to $22.22 in 2013. For sewer, it’s risen 60.6% from a $34.46 base in 2006 to $55.34 2013.
Konkel said the biggest jump occurred in 2009 and 2010 after the city upgraded its water treatment plant.
City Councilors opted not to raise water rates in 2010 but voted to increase water rates by 4% and sewer 3% last year.
Councilor Dennis Smith opposed the utility hikes this year with Ted Miller and Erik Erichsen.
“It’s all additive. It’s not just a straight 4%,” he said. “I can afford it but that doesn’t make it sit better. I just don’t know if my neighbors can.”
Erichsen said a majority of people in Sequim are on a fixed income and shouldn’t have to pay for a rate increase.
“It’s unfair to make them pay our rates to meet our standards when we give ($75,000) to charitable organizations. It’s unfair all around,” he said.
The city plans to continue a low income discount for those who qualify.
There was little discussion in the final 6-1 motion with Erichsen opposed to the city’s $55.3 million budget. He prefers giving the $75,000 of health and human service contracts back to rate payers to offset the utilities increases.
While the budget ballooned from years past, Konkel said in previous interviews it’s due to transfers for the city hall and police station at about $15 million, and an accounting requirement to record the civic center project twice. He said the budget will go down slightly the following year and go to back to recent numbers in two years.
For the civic center, the city is paying it off with about $10.4 million in bonds and about $5 million from savings. The city looks to repay the loans over 30 years for $660,000 a year with the voter-approved public safety tax at an estimated $225,000 a year, Real Estate Excise Tax for $75,000, savings from current rentals $200,000 and the city’s general fund at $160,000.
Included in the budget are nearly $6 million in capital projects with $336,000 slated for some streets in-need of chip sealing/crack sealing and/or slurry.
Engineering work to redo Fir Street will begin in 2014, too.
One city project will pay $50,000 from the Transportation Benefit District to sync the street lights for improved traffic flow and decreased waiting time for vehicles and pedestrians.
And depending on grants, the city looks to use $300,000 to engineer and buy right of ways on potential economic development around the Burrows property with street improvements nearby and a traffic signal at South Sequim Avenue and Prairie Street.
A few sewer and water department projects improve galvanized piping for nearly $1.1 million and a $230,000 project allows the city to remotely read sewer and water meters.
In addition to approving the city budget, and fees, city councilors unanimously approved the Transportation Benefit District’s budget and they voted 5-2 for the 1% increase tax levy that would generate an estimated $13,437.
Miller and Starr opposed it with Miller saying the rate doesn’t make up for inflation and doesn’t translate 2013 money into 2014 money.
Read the budget online at sequimwa.gov.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.