Councilors halt utility increases for 2021

Water and sewer rates could have gone up 4, 2 percent

Councilors halt utility increases for 2021

City of Sequim residents shouldn’t expect an increase in their utility bills in 2021. But they could see a rate bump the following year.

City councilors voted 4-2 at their Monday (Sept. 26) regular meeting to halt water and sewer rate increases in the proposed $33.5 million 2021 budget.

“It’s smart of us not to consider a rate increase certainly because of the COVID situation,” deputy mayor Tom Ferrell said.

“You’re reading my mind; in light of COVID and the unknown impact, I agree 100 percent,” mayor William Armacost added.

Monday’s meeting was the first time councilors have publicly discussed the 2021 budget, with more talks scheduled.

Councilor Brandon Janisse, however, voted against, saying he wanted more time to consider the proposal.

Councilor Dennis Smith, who also voted nay, said he felt there was unanimous agreement that no one wanted the proposed 4-percent water increase.

“As the rate study shows, at some place we’re going to have to catch up,” he said. “Some (percentage) is better than nothing. Two percent is fine.”

Earlier in the meeting, city utility rate consultant Gordon Wilson of FCS Group said his rate study proposes an ongoing 4-percent increase in water rates and 2-percent increase in sewer rates.

Councilors have not taken action on the proposed rate study.

In 2019, councilors approved a 4-percent increase in water rates and no increase in sewer rates, for an average increase of $1.21 per home each month.

Public Works Director David Garlington said city staff’s recommendation would be to keep the proposed rate increases.

“Costs of projects do go up,” he said.

“Four percent is not going to be four percent next year.”

In his 2021 budget message, Sequim City Manager Charlie Bush wrote that the average single-family residential bill has increased an average of 1 percent for the last five years in an effort to minimize impact on residents.

“Smaller rate increases over time help to avoid large jumps in rates that are more challenging for customers to afford in the long run and demonstrate the proactive management of our utility operations,” Bush wrote.

With no increase in 2021, Janisse asked if staff would propose a doubled increase of 8 percent in 2022.

“The recommended increase next year would be higher because we’re going with zero,” Garlington said.

“What that number would be, we would have to crunch the numbers … (but) it’d be higher than the recommendation we had this year.”

Bush wrote that “utility rates not only support operations, they support our master plans, our Capital Improvement Plan and debt service, as well.”

He added that a growing number of sewer customers led to a “strong financial performance for that fund” leading to less of a proposed increase year-to-year.

Bush said if 2021’s proposed utility rate increases were enacted, it would cost the average residential customer about $2.63 more a month.

As part of the utility rate study, city staff look to continue to offer low income discounts to qualifying residents.

Ferrell reiterated that, saying no increase in 2021 utilities is the “correct move to take.”

He said, “I know it creates a little bit of a challenge.”

Administrative service director Sue Hagener said she’ll create a draft revision of the fees and charges element of the budget for their next discussion on Oct. 12.

Read more about the City of Sequim 2021 budget at www.sequimwa.gov.

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