Outreach numbers rising with utility rate

As local utility costs continue to climb and the economy continues to slumber, more people are looking for help with it comes to keeping their homes warm and the water flowing.

That’s the word coming from both the city and Plateau Outreach Ministries, where Enumclaw residents are sent for help when they’re having trouble making their payments.

The latest utility increase levied by the city could add to the roles of those needing help, as sewer rates jumped by 55 percent earlier this month. Fees that were in the $30 range a few years ago are now pushing $80 per month.

“We have more people paying late and more people on the shut-off list,” city Finance Director Dianne Nelson said. The city is also seeing more homes without utility services, simply sitting empty, she added.

When ratepayers find themselves at the end of their financial rope, the city can be flexible, Nelson said.

“We’re always willing to make arrangements on a case-by-case basis,” she explained, noting that customers should contact her office before falling behind. Once late fees are applied to an account, they cannot be waived, she said.

If city residents are having short-term difficulties, they are directed to Plateau Outreach Ministries, where Kimberly Fish serves as director.

Fish said 30 people were helped through POM’s Samaritan Project during 2008, but that number has climbed to 65 already this year. With the recent hike in sewer rates, she expects the demand for help climb again.

The city maintains a program where senior citizens or anyone with a permanent disability can receive a healthy discount on their utility bill.

Nelson said bills are automatically reduced by 30 percent for anyone older than 65 or disabled. The discount applies to charges for water, sewer, garbage collection and natural gas.

Forms to apply for the discount are available in the finance office at City Hall and can be found online at the city Web site, www.cityofenumclaw.net.