Sewer rate goes before council

Enumclaw residents should learn how big a hit their budgets will take Monday night, when members of the Enumclaw City Council consider a serious increase in sewer rates.

Word of a major increase first came in July, when Public Works Director Chris Searcy told the council a rate hike of at least 50 percent would be necessary to keep the sewer utility operating at a break-even level. Subsequently, it was suggested that a rate increase of 35 percent be adopted immediately, with a second increase likely coming with the beginning of the new year; that rate bump is expected to be in the 20 percent range.

Council will receive a full presentation outlining the sewer utility’s bleak financial picture during Monday’s regularly-scheduled meeting, which gets under way at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

It is not slated to be a formal public hearing, but the council always includes room in its agenda for public comments.

Increased sewer rates are nothing new to Enumclaw ratepayers, who have faced 27 percent hikes in each of the last three years.

The current dismal scenario can be traced to both the ongoing recession and higher-than-expected costs associated with a major upgrade to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, according to information provided by Searcy.

The last study of city sewer rates was done in 2005, he said in a written report, prior to construction of the treatment plant. Rates were set on the belief that the plant expansion would cost approximately $23 million and it now appears the cost will be about $33 million. The three-year increases did not take into account the higher debt load the city would incur due to the higher cost.

Second, rates were set with the expectation of greater revenues being generated, now that the treatment plant is operational. The 2005 rate study anticipated more than $280,000 in annual connection charges and, with the slowdown in the housing market, the actual figure for 2009 is closer to $54,000.

“The lack of new growth shifts the revenue burden to the existing customer base through rates,” Searcy wrote.

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