City looks to change water fee structure

Officials with the City of Sequim are looking to restructure residents’ water utility rates by volume.

Officials with the City of Sequim are looking to restructure residents’ water utility rates by volume.

A proposed ordinance would switch the city from charging different amounts for rate-payers such as single-family and multi-family residences and commercial locations, to three levels based on water volume for all users.

By doing so, certain rate-payers’ water bills could go up to 4 percent depending on if they switch classifications by usage. The new usage rates, or tiers, would be 0-600 cubic feet for tier 1, 601-1,599 for tier 2, and 1,600-plus for tier 3.

Currently, Sequim residents pay base rates on two tiers — below and above 800 cubic feet. In the proposal, 190 customers would move up to tier 2 and pay up to $5 more per month for water and sewer.

Sequim Public Works Director Paul Haines said one part of their reasoning in the ordinance is to inspire conservation.

“We have to have some way for people to think about the water they are using,” he said.

“The more they control what their bill is, the better chance they have of making it effective.”

He said the current structure didn’t provide incentive for residents to put in low flow devices because the City didn’t use a consumptive rate.

“It pays them back to do reduced rate fixtures,” Haines said.

Sequim City Councilors open their discussion on the proposal this Monday, Oct. 13, at 5:30 p.m. at the Sequim Transit Center, 190 W. Cedar St.

The proposed ordinance follows a Sequim City Council approved utility rate structure study by Peninsula Financing Consulting.

It identifies that the city would need a 4 percent revenue increase over five years to counter inflation and help pay for water/sewer capital projects.

Documents from the study state that the city has identified $33 million and $34 million worth of projects for water and sewer over 20 years with $9 million and $11 million paid for by developers.

Haines said many residents will likely not see an across the board 4 percent increase.

“(The city) is doing its best on how to calculate fairness,” Haines said. “We’re trying not to load up additional expense in one year. Most of the customers would stay below a 4 percent increase total.”

As part of the 4 percent revenue need, city staff is looking to make changes to its sewer base rate.

Commercial and residential users who use 600-799 cubic feet of sewer services have until April to adjust their flows to less than 600 for savings, said Sarah VanAusdle, public works management analyst.

VanAusdle said the idea is to promote conservation.

Commercial locations are charged a base rate and per usage but residences are charged a base rate of $57.55 for under 800 cubic feet or $66.78 for more.

Businesses respond

While forming the proposed ordinance, city staff spoke with 33 high volume water/sewer businesses including Sequim School District, SARC, adult care facilities, hotel/motels and multi-familiy facilities.

Some of the comments from the adult care facilities said they will have to pass along increased rates to residents. They also want changes more gradually.

Hotel/Motel owners wanted more control over water consumption but many felt going towards more volume usage rates was right because their expenses are more based on occupancy.

Multi-family residences also wanted the proposal phased in and discounts for being higher density.

Some proposals in the ordinance respond to this by eliminating additional utility charges for commercial businesses, setting multi-family rates at 95 percent and hotel/motel rates at 75 percent of single family residences, and classifying adult care facilities as multi-family customers.

VanAusdle said many of the residents in multi-family residences like apartments and modular home homes average 450 cubic feet of water per month and likely are going to be unaffected by the changes.

For more information on the proposed ordinance, visit http://pnw.cc/CpaY8.

 

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