Confirms Utility Rate Increase
Funds will be leveraged to obtain a loan to improve infrastructure
WAITSBURG – At their January meeting, the Waitsburg City Council voted unanimously to approve a utility rate increase to fund imminent infrastructure repairs and upgrades, but opted to review the numbers one more time before making a final decision. The council approved the proposed increase, with minor changes, at their February meeting.
The council voted to raise utility rates by 5% on both water and sewer this year and next; followed by a steady 2.5% increase in 2019 and beyond. In addition to the rate increase, the council voted to lower the monthly allotment from 1,000 cubic feet to 500 cubic feet. However, they also voted on a reduction on the overage rate, taking it from 80 cents per 100 cubic feet down to 65 cents per 100 cubic feet.
The increase is a general increase of about $7.00 per month over the utility bill from the prior year, according to City Manager Randy Hinchliffe. The new rates will become effective with the February billing that users will receive in early March.
“We have to keep in mind that the reasoning for this is that we have deteriorating infrastructure and spring lines that need to be fixed. So we just can’t sit back and say that we don’t want to raise prices. We have to realize that we have the best interest of the citizens in mind. We need to do this so we can supply them with water,” Mayor Marty Dunn told the council, prior to the vote.
Established in 1865 and incorporated in 1886, Waitsburg ranks as one of the oldest cities in the State of Washington. With old age comes old infrastructure. The water system that is still in use today was installed in the early 1900s with the majority of the pipe distribution system now being made up of asbestos concrete installed in the 1950s/60s.
Sewer lines were installed in the 1930s and still consist of mainly terracotta clay pipe. Both materials are very brittle and extremely sensitive to vibration and root infiltration to where they can crack and break very easily, leading to failure.
“At the moment, nothing appears ready to completely fail in either system, but both are currently beginning to show their age. Over the past 10 years, the city has been as proactive as the budget has allowed, repairing and maintaining the distribution systems. We have continued to progress throughout a priority list of water deficiencies while continuing to reline sewer mainlines in offsetting years,” Hinchliffe said.
“Due to years of cost escalation and use of reserve fund balances as a means to keep utility rates stable, the city has come to the point to where the annual budget cannot support the continual repairs and maintenance of both systems as issues develop. The estimated cost to fix the known deficiencies in both systems is in excess of $2.5 million,” he added.
Hinchliffe said the purpose of this increase is to help fund infrastructure improvements around the city. Priority is being given to the replacement of all city utility water meters, the majority of those being 30-40 years old.
Hinchliffe told the council it would be preferable to replace all the meters at once, with 20-year meters, rather than piecemeal, over time. He said a rough estimate to replace all the meters is $300,000, but estimated that the old meters are not capturing as much as 20% of the water going through them, resulting in a loss of revenue for the city.
Once an overall revenue picture can be developed, the city intends to leverage the increases for a larger revenue loan that the city can then utilize to progress through its list of deficiencies within the water and sewer systems until it runs out of project funding, Hinchliffe said.
“Approving a rate increase is never easy, especially in a town with a small population, but in order to fulfill one of the city’s essential services, a rate increase was necessary to ensure we can continue to keep the water and sewer systems in good working order as a means to keep from regular large dollar increases over time,” Hinchliffe told The Times.
Questions regarding the increase or the utility systems can be directed to City Hall at 147 Main Street or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.