City told that utility rates may rise

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Vancouver Public Works laid the groundwork Monday for potential increases to water, surface water and solid waste utility rates.

In a presentation to the city council, the department’s director and finance manager said that incremental increases will be necessary to keep paying debt on projects and also to pay for future capital needs. The exact amounts of each proposed rate increase were not supplied; those figures will be given at a Dec. 5 workshop.

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.

But the city’s water fund has been spending down its reserves since 2007, and over the next 20 years, the program needs $150 million in maintenance and expansion projects.

Surface water will need $19 million for its needed work, and that figure could grow because of upcoming new requirements from the state Department of Ecology, Carlson said.

Solid waste cost increases will reflect the Consumer Price Index of 2.1 percent and increases in the cost of disposing of trash.

After the Dec. 5 workshop, the proposed rate increases will go for a first reading on Dec. 12; a final reading, citizen comment and a likely vote will be Dec. 19.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542, http://facebook.com/reporterdamewood,http://twitter.com/col_cityhall or andrea.damewood@columbian.com.