Enumclaw's budget includes small change in utility rates

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 Monday night as anticipated.

Creating a balanced budget – required by state law – has been difficult in Enumclaw and everywhere else, as cities and counties deal with a sluggish economy that isn’t showing any sign of resurgence. The long process of crafting a spending plan should 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 budget. 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 charges. 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 charge for volume, which represents actual water usage, will increase about 50 cents a month for the average household, Searcy said.

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

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 an 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.

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