Utility yo-yo: one rate going up, one dropping

It was a good news-bad news situation for city utility customers when members of the Enumclaw City Council last met, as talks centered upon a proposed decrease in natural gas rates and a hike in garbage rates.

The net effect for the average, single-family-home customer would be a savings of perhaps $13 per month. That applies, however, only to those using natural gas.

Discussions were preliminary during the Oct. 8 council meeting, based on written and verbal reports by Public Works Director Chris Searcy. The council gave a tentative thumbs-up to the rate adjustments, but will issue a final verdict during Monday night’s session.

The city’s natural gas and solid waste operations are enterprise funds, which means their annual expenses and revenues must balance.

Considering natural gas, council members are looking at dropping rates much more than they did in late 2011. Due to decreasing supply costs, the city reduced rates by 5 percent a year ago; this time around, Searcy has proposed a 15 percent rate reduction, effective Nov. 1.

If the council approves the recommended rate decrease, the average monthly winter gas bill should drop about $15, Searcy reported, with an annual savings of about $109.

While that rate decrease impacts only those using natural gas, the proposed increase in garbage and yard waste collections hits all city customers.

The ordinance before the council calls for an across-the-board, 9.5 percent increase in garbage rates and a 5 percent hike in yard waste rates, both to take effect Jan. 1. Added together, it amounts to an additional $2.23 per month.

The proposed increases follow rate hikes imposed a year ago, in response to bumped-up fees at both the King County transfer station and Cedar Grove Composting, where the city hauls garbage and compostables, respectively.

Despite the increases, the solid waste utility is expected to fall short of operating expenditures by approximately $66,000 this year, pushing reserves to a minimum. Adding to the financial mix is another rate increase this year at the transfer station, along with the need to replace many of the city-owned yard waste containers.


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