Ten Bonney Lake residents approached the City Council Oct. 17 with the hopes of being appointed to the recently-opened council seat, but of course, only one walked away with council approval.
After close to two hours of interviews, the council decided to nominate longtime Bonney Lake resident and former city employee Michelle Surdez (the z is silent) to the council.
Surdez was sworn in during the Oct. 24 council meeting, taking former Councilwoman Katrina Minton-Davis’ seat, which she vacated after she moved out of the city.
“I’ve had an interest pursuing a council position for a number of years,” she told the council during her interview. “I am fully committed to fulfilling the remaining term of this vacant position.”
Surdez has 17 years of government experience under her belt, starting with being a Bonney Lake employee in 2000 as an accounting specialist for one year and public work support services coordinator for another five.
She then moved on to Auburn, where she worked for a year as the utility billing coordinator and another five years as a senior accountant in the city’s financial department, working on the city’s budget and grant administration.
Currently, Surdez is the customer service manager at the Covington Water District, where she oversees the day-to-day operations for utility billing, meter reading and customer service in general. She also has experience doing rate studies and annual rate comparisons.
In fact, in an interview after she was sworn in, Surdez said her appointment to the council was “perfect timing” for her to help with the water bill situation many Bonney Lake residents are dealing with.
On Oct. 17, residents overflowed the council chambers to complain about outrageous water bills — some two, three or even four times more expensive than usual — even though many claimed they did consume more water, nor did they have a leak in their system.
The council has since directed city staff to examine if there could possibly be an error in their water utility system.
More residents approached the council about their bills after Surdez was sworn in, hoping for any update on the city’s findings. A few asked the council to put a stay on collecting these bills until the city completed its investigation.
“We are all aware utility services are a very sensitive situation. Citizens work really hard for their money, and the last thing they want to pay for are the rising costs of necessary capital improvements and operating expenses. We need, as governmental agencies, we need to find other ways to prove the value that we bring to them. That comes in the form of educating and informing them of different situations, explaining why policies are what they are,” Surdez said during her interview with the council. “I believe I have the tools, the skills and the knowledge to be an asset to city council and city residents, and I have faced head on with Covington Water the controversies surrounding high rates and also public trust.”
As she’s just been appointed to the council, she said she’s still “trying to get an idea of what’s getting worked on,” in general around the city, and about the water utility, she’s “still getting all that information.”
There is little additional news concerning what the city knows about the water consumption issue that’s plaguing some residents, but Bonney Lake staff are beginning to collect some data.
“Right now we are in the middle of downloading the past 90 days of radio meter read data, plus from Nov. 1 to Nov. 15 we will be collecting data during our normal meter read cycle for both manual, touch, and radio read meters to make sure all the data is being collected and transmitted correctly,” Mayor Neil Johnson said in an Oct. 26 email interview, adding that this process must be done during a regular read cycle or it will cause issues for individual accounts. “As each meter is read by the meter readers, their supervisor will follow behind and manually read the meters of the customers on our concerned customer list.”
These manual reads will be compared to the automatic meter reading (AMR) that gets downloaded into the city’s finance department’s software.
Johnson said the city will complete data collection by mid-November and start analyzing the data, so “We will not have anything concrete by Nov. 7, but we hope to have a brief update on the status of our review.”