The Bonney Lake council spend the Nov. 21 workshop discussing budget amendments and being updated on the city’s internal audit of its water utility. Photo by Ray Still

The Bonney Lake council spend the Nov. 21 workshop discussing budget amendments and being updated on the city’s internal audit of its water utility. Photo by Ray Still

Bonney Lake amends budget to include rec program, Fennel Creek projects

City continues audit of water utility, but no abnormalities reported

12/1/2017 CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this article, Bonney Lake’s Public Services Director was misidentified as John Woodcock. John Vodopich is the Public Services Director, and Woodcock is the City Engineer.

11/28/2017 Original post: Bonney Lake is in the midst of the budget amendment season, with the City Council working to modify the 2017-2018 budget passed at the end of last year.

According to City Administrator Don Morrison, the changes being made are modest.

One of the bigger changes is an amendment to the city’s general fund so the city can continue running a recently-adopted recreation program, which Bonney Lake took over from the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District Aug. 15.

An additional $1.5 million has been requested to continue running this program, with most of the costs going toward staff.

When the city took over the program, district Athletics Director Tim Thomsen said the program is self-sustaining — approximately 60 percent of the overall program’s budget is fed by after-school activity fees.

Morrison said the $1.5 million is what the district told the city the recreation program will cost, as well as make up in revenue.

City staff is also asking for a large change in the city’s parks capital improvement projects (CIP) funds — roughly $2.45 million.

More than half of the request (around $1.5 million) comes in the form of a state grant for finishing up Fennel Creek, Special Projects Manager Gary Leaf said during the Nov. 14 council meeting.

This money would go to the segment of the trail that will connect the trail from the Willowbrook subdivision to a city-owned parcel adjacent to 95th Street East, Leaf said in an email interview.

However, “More environmental work and property acquisition is needed before construction can begin, likely late 2018,” Leaf continued. “The trail on the city-owned parcel will be with city funds only (a WSDOT grant requirement) and will probably begin early 2018 and be completed by mid-2018.”

Leaf said this construction would cost around $500,000, and another $450,000 will be spent purchasing the right-of-way for that parcel.

The extra million, Leaf said, is coming out of this year’s ending fund balance for the Park CIP, not any other funds.

Leaf added this pulls some funding away from constructing the new Allan Yorke Park ballfields, so the city will be applying for Resource Conservation Office grants to fund those projects this spring, with results in August.

PROPERTY TAXES

Just like last year, property taxes are expected to increase by 1 percent.

A public hearing on the annual Ad Valorem tax levy was held Nov. 14, which was attended by three city residents.

While the city is looking to increase its property tax collection from just over $3 million to $3.09 million, tax rates will be dropping slightly for city residents from $1.26981 to $1.13908.

This is because municipalities are required by state law to collect only 1 percent more in property tax revenue than the previous year or whatever the tax rate was the previous year, plus inflation — whichever is less.

That 1 percent limit, Morrison said, only applies to existing taxpayers, which is why any new construction and annexations boost the city’s proposed property tax collection is above the 1 percent limit.

This means residents will a $300,000 in assessed property value will pay roughly $341 in property taxes to the city in 2018, about $40 less in 2017.

WATER AUDIT UPDATE

Council discussed another update about water consumption and high utility bills after a packed room of residents complained last October.

Many residents were coming in with bills two or three times more than their normal amounts, but claimed they hadn’t used any more water than usual.

“As we suspected, this is proving to be a consumption issue, not a faulty meter or calculation issue,” Morrison said in an email interview after the council meeting.

City staff are still examining all the meter data they’ve collected, comparing data collected manually to data recorded in Bonney Lake’s utility system, but so far, no abnormalities have been found.

And as of last week, 43 total meters — a mix of manual-read, touch-read and radio-read meters — to a facility in Everett where they’ll be tested for their accuracy.

These meters were ones residents have said were faulty and recording incorrect water consumption levels, making their bills skyrocket.

During the Nov. 21 workshop, councilmembers took turns praising city staff for how they’ve handled the situation.

“I would like to offer my appreciation for your whole department regarding water meter problem,” Councilman Jim Rackley said, the first to praise both the Finance Department, led by Cherie Gibson, and the Public Services department, led by John Vodopich. “You have done an extraordinary and exemplary response to all of this, which has caused this to settle back from a revolt to a study.”

Morrison said the city has specifically addressed around 50 individual accounts, some taking a few minutes, and others taking multiple hours.

While he said he couldn’t say whether or not people are satisfied with the answers the city has, “I do know the complaints have dropped dramatically. I do think we went to great lengths in trying to get people the correct information.”

Of course, not everyone is happy with these results.

A group of Bonney Lake residents, including Cindy Gilsing and Mary Sullivan, have met to discuss the city’s updates on its utility audit.

“We do appreciate the time city staff have taken to educate us on how to read our water meters and teach us about the water system,” a group statement reads. “Unfortunately our team members still have to pay their high water bills. For now it seems our only avenue is to check our meters frequently to detect issues earlier.”

The group has said they’ve requested data from the city, including water bill data by sector (residential, commercial, industrial) to see if a disproportionate number of residents received high bills, as well as data from past end-of-summer water consumption spikes, but were told the data couldn’t be obtained or wasn’t available.

Gilsing and Sullivan also wonder if there’s a financial incentive to this issue.

“The city may need the extra revenue to meet expenses,” their statement reads. “During the Nov. 7th city workshop meeting, a statement was made that there was talk in a past meeting to minimize communication to citizens to conserve water during the summer. Less conservation by the citizens would help the city cover expenses. In this same workshop it was stated that the Department of Health sent a letter to the city requesting that the water rates be increased because our citizens have a higher median income than other cities. Is the DOH pressuring the city to raise rates?”

The city’s financial department has been working with residents affected by high water bills on payment plans, which do not collect interest.

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