Vancouver to mull utility rate increases tonight

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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The Vancouver City Council tonight will hear specifics from staff on potential utility rate increases in water, surface water, sewer and solid waste.

Public works officials will present the amount of recommended increases in a workshop today at 4 p.m. at City Hall, 415 W. Sixth St. No vote on the increase will be taken; a public hearing will be held later this month.

The city council's workshop comes as many agencies across Clark County adjust their budgets for the upcoming year. Clark Public Utilities is also considering a 10 percent water rate hike.

In a presentation to the city council, the Public Works director and its finance manager said that incremental increases will be necessary to keep paying debt on projects and also to pay for future capital needs.

Ultimately, said Public Works Director Brian Carlson, public works will do all its maintenance and capital investment on a pay-as-you-go basis, taking on debt only when absolutely necessary.

Last year, the city council approved sewer rate increases of 9 percent and 6.5 percent for 2011 and 2012 respectively. That fund had been spending down its reserves since 2003; however, the sewer budget is back on track and will need rate increases in the near future only to adjust for inflation, Carlson said.

The city council, during that time, agreed with the pay-as-you go policy and indicated likely support for more rate increases.

Also on tonight's Vancouver City Council agenda is a vote on a proposed 1 percent property tax increase, a move that is also on the agendas for most Clark County governments as 2011 draws to a close.