News

Natural gas rate jumps 53 percent

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

After looking at the issue for a couple of weeks, the Enumclaw City Council has settled on an increase in natural gas rates that certainly will not warm the hearts of city customers.

Faced with escalating supply costs that could wreak havoc on the city-owned utility, council members voted Oct. 24 on a new rate structure that increases rates by 53.5 percent.

The biggest factor in skyrocketing gas costs has been Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, explained Public Works Director Chris Searcy. It would be a mistake, he told council members, to assume prices will eventually drop to pre-hurricane levels.

With that, Searcy recommended a plan in which the natural gas utility will borrow $450,000 from the city's sewer utility fund to help smooth the transition to higher gas costs. Without such a move, Searcy wrote in a memo, the staff suggestion might be for a rate increase of 69 percent.

The new rate, which takes effect this week, will increase the average monthly residential gas bill by $34.54. Based on higher usage during colder weather, the average monthly bill during the winter could increase by as much as $48.80.

Impacted will be residents of 3,436 single-family homes, along with 439 other customers.

Those living outside the city limits have already felt the impact of higher gas costs. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission approved a request by Puget Sound Energy that bumped rates by an average of 12 to 15 percent for all groups of customers. Those new rates went into effect Oct. 1.

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

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