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Ratepayers won’t see immediate increases

When utility rates increase for Enumclaw customers, the hikes traditionally become effective with the first of the year.

That’s not the case this time around, as the city is taking a wait-and-see approach. City ratepayers shouldn’t get their hopes up – increases are surely on the way – it’s simply a matter of timing, as outside factors have caused city officials to wait a few months before making utilities more expensive.

The only utility already acted upon is natural gas. City Council members earlier approved a 2 percent rate increase that became effective Nov. 1.

A couple of other increases will be larger and are still to come.

When the city’s tentative 2009 budget was first prepared, it was built with an assumed 25 percent increase in the sewer rate. The figure remains uncertain and could go up or down, according to Public Works Director Chris Searcy.

“We’re hoping that’s on the high side,” he said, explaining that the nation’s uncertain economy is delaying the rate-fixing process.

While the new portion of the municipal wastewater treatment plant is complete and operating, some parts of the original building need to be updated and others are in line for demolition, Searcy explained. The city has not financed the millions still needed to complete the additional work and will hold off “until the municipal bond market improves,” Searcy said.

What kind of deal the city gets will help shape the eventual sewer rate increase.

Also up in the air is an anticipated increase in the water rate. The mayor’s tentative budget for ’09 predicted a 13 percent increase but that hasn’t been firmly decided, Searcy said.

A question mark in the water utility, he added, is the potential for development of the golf course well. The city drilled a new well in 2007 but it’s sitting idle and cannot be used until a pump and other necessary equipment is installed. That would take additional revenue.

Also impacting a water rate decision is the fact that water revenues have decreased, Searcy said, and there are no surplus funds.

One bit of good news that might be dashed comes in the form of solid waste disposal fees. The mayor’s early prediction for the budget showed no increase for trash collection and the disposal of yard waste and recycling, but that may not hold true, Searcy said.

“We’ve heard the cost to get rid of recycling will be doubling,” he said, noting that his budget could take a $40,000 hit. The decline of the recycling market “is nothing unique to us,” Searcy said. “It’s going on across the country.”

Searcy said rate adjustments will be studied during the first couple of months of the year and will require City Council action. If increases are on the way, he said, they would likely become effective in the spring.

Reach Kevin Hanson at khanson@courierherald.com or 360-802-8205.

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