News

Number of rate hikes add up

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

Enumclaw residents charged with keeping an eye on the household budget will have to revise their spending plan after the first of the year, as the cost of maintaining a home in the city will be climbing at least $50 per month - and more during times of chilly weather.

The additional costs stem from a series of rate increases and a property tax recently adopted - or being considered - by the Enumclaw City Council.

The single biggest change has already taken effect. The cost of natural gas jumped 53.5 percent as of Nov. 1, impacting 3,436 single-family customers in Enumclaw, along with 439 other users. Public Works Director Chris Searcy noted the average natural gas bill is expected to increase by $34.50 per month; the rate is more noticeable in the winter months, when bills could climb by an average of $48.80.

Enumclaw residents are hardly alone in their misery when it comes to paying for natural gas. Skyrocketing prices are a nationwide problem, brought about primarily due to production troubles spawned by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Utility companies and providers like the city of Enumclaw are largely passing along their increased supply costs.

Set to take effect Jan. 1 is an increase in sewer rates, a move that will cost city residents $6.70 more per month. Customers should get used to paying more for sewer services, as the council has approved a three-year plan that calls for a 27 percent rate increase Jan. 1 and an identical hike in 2007 and 2008.

The climbing sewer rate reflects additional dollars needed to fund expansion and improvements to the municipal wastewater treatment plant. Development around town has been on hold in recent years, as the state has essentially mandated a halt to growth until Enumclaw improves its system. The plant discharges into the White River, a salmon-bearing waterway, making it ecologically sensitive.

The city has secured low-interest loans to pay for the project, which has seen its price tag climb by millions in recent years. The city hopes to begin construction in 2006 and have the improved and expanded facility operating during 2007.

Another rate increase already approved for Jan. 1 is for water. Costs will climb 6.5 percent, meaning the average monthly bill will climb from $23.54 to $25.08.

Two other rate increases have been proposed and were to be considered by the council earlier this week. Costs associated with disposing of both garbage and yard waste have been climbing, Searcy said, and rates have not kept pace. That's especially true when it comes to yard waste, he said, where the proposal has been for a 67 percent rate increase. That would push the average monthly bill up by $3.11, to $7.75. The suggested rate increase for garbage collection is 12.5 percent, which would bring an additional monthly charge of $2.05.

Finally, after years of striving to keep property tax increases low - or instituting no tax hike at all - the city felt the need to use some of its untapped taxing potential. Rather than whittle away at city services, the council authorized a property tax increase of 5.5 percent for 2006.

City Finance Director Gary Smalling said the owner of property valued at $250,000 will pay a couple of dollars more per month due to the increase. Using a $250,000 home as an example, Smalling said the city share of property taxes in 2005 was about $579 and that figure is expected to climb to about $604, bringing an annual increase of about $25.

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

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