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Council considers utility rate increase

Rate hike would be spread over five years and include sewer and water

By Dennis Box

The Courier-Herald

A drink of water may be a little more expensive in Bonney Lake next year.

The city hired a Bellevue economic consulting firm, HDR/EES (Economic Engineering Services), to provide an analysis of its water and sewer rates. The firm was paid $55,000 by the city.

At the Oct. 6 City Council workshop, Tom Gould of HDR/EES presented a five-year rate increase proposal of 15 percent for the first three years and 4 percent for the last two.

Sewer rates would see a much smaller adjustment of 1.5 percent per year.

A residential customer currently pays $19.25 per month for water. The rate would increase by $2.89 to $22.14 for the first three years.

In the fourth year the water rate would be $30.14 and in the fifth $31.67.

Sewer rates would increase from the current $45.30 to $45.98.

If adopted by the City Council and enacted by Mayor Bob Young, the rate increases would begin in January.

According to Gould, water rates are falling short by more than 16 percent per year of paying for the cost of the service. Sewer rates are more than 4 percent deficient.

Young stated the city has been supplementing the utility rates out of its general fund for the last several years.

"The tax-cutting initiatives cut out a lot of funding to the city," Young said. "It means either increase funds or drop services. We have been frugal by choice, now we have to be frugal by necessity."

Gould will bring back to the council options on summer and winter rates for water, different types of users and methods on how to make the rate structure as fair and equitable as possible.

Increasing rates gradually is meant to avoid huge rate hikes. In 1994 Bonney Lake jumped the water rates by 63.5 percent and the sewer by 50.7 percent.

The most recent increases came in 2002 and 2003. Water went up by 5 percent in both years, and sewer by 10 percent.

Compared with other cities, Gould reported Bonney Lake water rates are on the low end and sewer rates are on the high end.

Sumner residents pay $12.05 for water and $54.76 for sewer per month. Buckley pays $17.06 for water and $38.49 for sewer, while Enumclaw residents buy water at $23.54 and sewer at $24.80.

Along with the rate increase, Gould is suggesting a 2 percent hike in the city's utilities tax, from 8 percent to 10 percent.

While Gould's presentation was generally well received, not all council members are sold on the increases.

"I'm not convinced rate increases are needed," Councilman Neil Johnson said. "We need to look at staffing levels before a tax increase. I'd also like to see a decrease in the rates. Once we have increases and projects are paid off, let's show decreases in rates after that."

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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