The Bonney Lake City Council has spent more than a month mulling over proposed increases in water and sewer rates and are one step closer to making a final decision.
In a workshop May 16, the City Council came together to further discuss whether or not residents will have to pay more for their water and sewer usage.
“We’ve got people to worry about pleasing,” Councilman James Rackley said.
With the proposed rates by FCS Group — the firm hired by the city to create a study on Bonney Lake’s utilities — water rates would increase by 9 percent for July 2017 and then by 9 percent again in January 2018. From there, water rates would continue to increase annually for two more years, but at a slower pace.
The same concept goes for the sewer rates, though the initial increase would be 5.5 percent in July.
If decided on, the combined 9 percent water rate and 5.5 percent sewer rate increases proposed by FCS Group would increase the average monthly sewer and water bill from $107.14 to $113.87 in July, and then to $121.06 in 2018.
These numbers are based off of a single-family residence that uses 700 cubic feet (or 7 centum cubic feet, or ccf) of water or sewer per month, which comes out to 5,236 gallons — the state average for usage.
At the beginning of the workshop, it was agreed that an initial rate increase would need to be made for July 2017, and that it would be acceptable to use the next six months to do further research into what projects the rates would pay for.
But the council is split on how much the initial rate increase should be — do they go with FCS’s proposed rates, or come up with another option that eases initial costs on those who pay for the city’s water and sewer?
Several council members have voiced their concerns with FCS Group’s proposed rates, including Tom Watson, Dan Swatman and Katrina Minton-Davis, who was absent from the May 16 workshop but addressed the topic during the March 9 council meeting.
“It’s the inputs that I’m worried about. I think that there could be significant reductions in some of those inputs such as the allocation for the Public Work Center,” Swatman said.
According to FCS Group, Bonney Lake’s scheduled projects will require over $36 million from both the water and sewer rates. Around $2.5 million is needed for the new Public Works Center, and the proposed rate increases would cover the cost of other projects that the city needs done.
During the workshop, Watson suggested that the city council approve a 5 percent water rate increase for July 2017 instead of the proposed 9 percent.
A 5 percent increase would raise water bills by $1.20 a month, whereas the original 9 percent proposal would see an increase of $2.17.
Rackley and Swatman were keen on Watson’s alternative since they wanted more time to investigate the exact costs of the projects, but council member Justin Evans made a point for the original proposal for water.
“If we just say ‘5 percent’ now, we’re cutting our throat a little bit more,” Evans said.
He argued that lessening the initial rate increase for July would force the city to “play catch-up” with its revenue, and the 9 percent increase would allow the council to look at the future rate increases — since those projections could be changed — allowing time for the council to investigate capital project costs.
Evans wasn’t the only one to side with the FCS-recommended rate increases.
“At this point we paid a lot of money to have this group come in and study this; we had experts brought in, the staff’s looked at it for a long time…. I just feel like we haven’t done anything and I believe it’s time to start, so I’d go with the recommendation,” said Councilman Donn Lewis.
Lewis brought up the point that the city’s rates have been stagnant since 2009, and because of this, the city has little revenue to pay for needed capital projects.
“In order to finance, you’re going to have to keep enough cash available for your bond rating, and right now I don’t think your bond rating is sustainable,” said Bonney Lake’s Chief Financial Officer Cherie Gibson, who attended the workshop.
Along with the city’s low revenue, Gibson brought up another point — because Bonney Lake citizens have to be notified by June 1 of any rate increases on July 1, Watson’s suggestion of 5 percent may not be enough for the city’s needed revenue.
“You’re not actually going to get these rates come July 1; they’re going to be implemented, then they’ll hit the next bill, so really, you’re not going to see an increase in revenue until September-October,” she said. “If you’re going to less than 9, you’re getting a lot less.”
The City Council has until June 1 to come up with a final decision.
Two ordinances relating to sewer and water rates were expected to be introduced in council today, May 23, the last regularly scheduled council meeting of the month.