News

City has options for water at Y Bar S

By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald

Pure water costs a pretty penny.

More than 100 households in rural Enumclaw face the prospect of their monthly bills jumping as much as 400 percent if, or when, the city begins providing water.

Of course, residents of the Y Bar S neighborhood haven't been too happy with the service they've received lately from their privately-owned water purveyor. Twice in recent months the state Department of Health has issued warnings, telling residents to boil water due to the threat of E. coli bacteria.

The state agency has encouraged the city to enter the picture and residents of the neighborhood just north of Enumclaw have done the same.

Enumclaw officials have been actively debating the matter for months and members of the City Council spent considerable time Jan. 14 discussing options.

City staff had recommended to council that the city acquire the Y Bar S Water System from its owner, Bliss Industries. A second option on the table would have the city serving as a wholesaler, providing water to the Y Bar S system, which would remain as owner.

While split on the matter, the majority of the council disagreed with the staff recommendation and eventually asked that a different resolution be drafted - one that would allow the city to provide water but not take ownership.

Council members expressed concern that the water system could soon experience a complete failure and were unwilling to take the financial risk.

All acknowledge there could be some risk involved. The staff recommendation had suggested each household be assessed a monthly surcharge, with the money set aside for a future emergency.

Chris Searcy, the city's public works director, makes it clear that current ratepayers cannot be negatively impacted by dealings with potential new customers. An analysis provided by his department noted, “all costs must be recovered from the customers of Y Bar S and, at worst, be revenue neutral for existing city customers.”

That means some hefty charges if the city becomes involved.

Currently, Y Bar S residents are charged a flat fee of $29.95 per month for their water.

Tentative numbers show that figure could climb to about $120 monthly if the city were to acquire the water system or almost $115 if the city became a wholesale water supplier. Under the terms of an acquisition, charges could include a monthly fee of about $54, a $35 surcharge to recover the cost of improvements that must be done now and another surcharge of $35 to be set aside for future needs.

Under the terms of a wholesale agreement, the Public Works Department is assuming a monthly rate of almost $80, plus a surcharge that could range from $35 to $70. The city would not set the rate for homeowners in that case, but would charge the owner of the system; the owner, in turn, would decide how much each customer would pay.

Searcy said information requested by the council should be provided for the council's Monday meeting. A final decision, he said, could come during the council's first meeting in February, but could be delayed if further study is required.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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