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Enumclaw gas rate to drop, water rate going up

The price of Enumclaw's water will increase slightly and the cost of natural gas will drop with the coming of the new year, if members of the City Council adopt a 2011 budget as anticipated.

Creating a balanced budget – as required by state law – has been difficult in Enumclaw and everywhere else, as cities and counties deal with a sluggish economy that shows no sign of immediate resurgence. The long process of crafting a spending plan is expected to come to an end Monday, as budget adoption is on the council agenda. By law, the council has until the end of the year to finalize the budget document.

Utility costs are just a small portion of the overall municipal budget, but they impact every household. Some years are worse than others and it appears 2011 will be kinder to customers than recent years have been.

The only rate showing a significant increase is for water, where Public Works Director Chris Searcy has proposed a 3.5 percent hike in both the base rate and volume charge. For water customers residing inside the city limits, the proposed increase would have the monthly base rate jump from $12.51 to $12.95. For those who use city water but live outside the city limits, the base rate would go from $18.77 to $19.43.

The volume charge, which represents actual water usage, will increase about 50 cents a month for the average household, Searcy said.

The bottom line is an increase of "between 90 cents and a dollar a month," Searcy said.

The water department, like all utilities, is an enterprise fund, meaning it has to be self-sufficient; there is no subsidy from the city's general fund. The need for a rate increase, Searcy said, stems from the lingering, listless economy.

"We've seen decreased consumption due to foreclosures and vacant homes," he said, noting that less water usage means a drop in revenues.

The first part of 2010 was fairly strong, he said, due to federal incentives for first-time home buyers, but the rest of the year wasn't as healthy.

As for natural gas, the reduced rate proposed for 2011 reflects a price drop on the open market – the city is paying less now than it did a year ago, so customers pay less, too.

As part of the overall rate, customers pay a tax on the gas utility, presently set at 4 percent. That tax is proposed to increase to 6 percent on Jan. 1, but the final rate will still be dropping. Searcy said the net result – the rate decrease combined with the tax hike – will have customers paying 5.4 percent less for natural gas after the first of the year.

Other utilities managed by the city are garbage collection and sewer.

The sewer rate is tied to the Consumer Price Index, Searcy said, and will climb by less than 1 percent next year. Rates for garbage collection show no change in the 2011 budget.

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