News

Councilman questions rate strategy

By Kevin Hanson, The Courier-Herald

The end of a relatively uneventful Enumclaw City Council meeting was sparked by one councilman's concern over the uncertain fate of city sewer rates.

As the Feb. 23 meeting was about to wrap up after just 45 minutes, Councilman Mike Ennis issued a lighthearted apology for introducing a potentially sticky subject and then said, "I'd like to know what's going on with sewer rates."

At the heart of the matter is the city's overhaul of the existing sewage treatment plant, which has carried an estimated price tag of $16 million. Public Works Director Chris Searcy was due to receive new numbers late last week, and the project cost could change, according to City Administrator Mark Bauer.

The city has secured a low-interest loan of $9.25 million from the state's Public Works Trust Fund and has started drawing money from the account. The city has to begin repaying the borrowed money in July. Bauer said Enumclaw has sought money from both state and federal agencies, but admits chances are slim of obtaining grants. So, the city will be looking at borrowing additional money to complete the project.

Repayment of the debt has to come from ratepayers, and Ennis is concerned the city hasn't started increasing rates in anticipation of bills that will come due. "It should be, it has to be, a gradual increase," Ennis told follow council members. He repeatedly noted he would not support a move that would double sewer rates overnight.

The city has been working on plans to upgrade the sewage treatment plant for years, but has left rates relatively stable. Currently, residential customers pay $24.80 per month for sewer services.

Ennis admitted there are still some uncertainties in funding, but maintained the $9.25 million loan is "hard cost" that needs to be addressed. Searcy said he would begin putting together an anticipated rate schedule necessary to pay back the $9.25 million over 20 years, while reminding the council that anticipated growth and connected fees would help with the payback.

"We just want to have all the information out there as soon as possible," said Councilman Glen Jensen, who also has questioned the city's plan for debt repayment.

In other action at their Feb. 23 meeting, members of the Enumclaw City Council:

€ learned the new traffic-control lights on Second Street (at both Griffin Avenue and state Route 410) could be activated at any time. Searcy reported the lights were to be tested Monday and could go on line as early as Tuesday. Before they can be activated, he said, Griffin Avenue will require some new striping, and weather could play a role in that project.

€ heard from Athena Dean, representing the Enumclaw Downtown Partnership. She said the EDP is initiating a new program called "Twilight Tuesdays," which will have participating downtown businesses remaining open until 8 p.m. each Tuesday. The program, designed to entice shoppers to wander downtown, kicks off April 6.

€ approved a resolution addressing the "donation of services" by the city's Parks and Recreation Department. Director John Keates said his department is frequently asked to donate to worthy causes and gives away free classes, swimming pool rental, etc. The policy adopted by council limits departmental donations to $1,000 annually with an $80 limit on any single donation.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com

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