Looking ahead to the budget season, a 2.71 percent sewer increase is proposed across the board for all city residents next year along with tentative 3.58 percent water and 2.84 percent sewer increases in 2016.
The proposed increases stem from an ordinance Sequim city councilors voted 4-2 on Oct. 13, with Erik Erichsen and Dennis Smith opposed to revising the city’s water and sewer utility rate structure. The proposal switches the city from a flat-rate water system to a volume-based system on three levels: 0-600 cubic feet for tier 1, 601-1,599 for tier 2 and 1,600-plus for tier 3.
Currently, Sequim residents pay based 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.
The reasoning, Public Works Director Paul Haines said, is to promote conservation and follow a consultant’s recommendation to increase water/sewer revenue by 4 percent over six years to help pay for capital projects at about 2.5 percent a year and inflation at 1.5 percent a year.
“The result is that it rebalances the equity of what we charge to customers,” Haines said.
The percentage increases from year-to-year account for changes in the city’s water and sewer revenues.
Councilor Erik Erichsen and a few Sequim residents spoke against the changes.
“I don’t believe the case has been made for us to do this,” he said.
Richard Miller, a county resident who owns a fourplex on Govan Avenue, opposed the increases saying that by the city asking people to conserve and go below 600 cubic feet is unrealistic for families. After the meeting, he told the Gazette that Sequim rentals like his are 50-70 percent higher than Port Angeles and that he’ll have to move increased costs to renters.
Melvina Worman, a Dungeness resident, said she was worried that higher water rates would lead people to not water lawns and make Sequim more unattractive and detour tourists.
Councilor Genaveve Starr said it’s imperative that residents conserve as much water as possible.
“We’re going to have to change our habits in daily use and go for those plants that will make our yards look attractive that don’t require a lot of water,” she said.
Councilor Laura Dubois supported the ordinance too saying city staff has worked on rebalancing rates for more than year.
“It has been shown to us through these studies that average residential customer is subsidizing some of the commercial customers,” she said. “This is a more equitable look at how we charge for rates.”
Dubois asked Haines when the city would be caught up with its projects’ expenses and inflation.
“It’ll be some time,” Haines said. “It could be 10-20 years. It’s the capital element that has to be caught up with.”
Following up on the City of Port Angeles’ decision to pursue a flat rate model, Smith asked why make the change.
“Our water sources are very different,” Haines said. “They have water for a long, long time.”
Haines said the idea is to get into a model of replacing outdated piping.
Next year, 417 commercial and public authority accounts will see an increase in their water rate depending on their meter size, said Sarah VanAusdle, public works management analyst.
City staff estimates a revenue net increase of $31,000 that those customers will absorb as the city adopts new American Water Works Association meters.
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.
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 they’ll phase in reductions for multi-family locations but they know those residents are paying more than they should.
“We want to rectify that,” she said. “The balancing act comes into place in 2017.”
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, she said.
All utility customers who use 600-799 cubic feet of sewer services have until April 2015 to adjust their flows to less than 600, Van Ausdle said.
In data provided by the city, 57 percent of city single-family residents use less than 600 cubic feet of water, about 11 percent use 601-800, 29 percent use 801-1,600 and 69 use more than 1,600.
VanAusdle said averaging the changes for all commercial/ public authority accounts would be difficult because they range from a mom-and-pop stores to big box stores.