Washougal to lower water rates

$500,000 from reserve fund will be used to reduce planned hike

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Washougal is moving forward with a way to reduce residents' water, sewer and stormwater bills, at least in the short term.

The city will use $500,000 from its general reserve fund to reduce the cost of residential water utilities.

As a result of the proposal, the city will cut its planned 2013 increase for residential homes by more than half. Instead of raising rates by $36, the city plans to raise them by about $8. Ratepayers can expect to pay a bimonthly bill of about $183 this year instead of the proposed $211.

Councilor Brent Boger, who'd made a strong push to lower the rates by reducing the city's utility taxes, said the city's move wasn't what he'd planned. Still, it will accomplish the same immediate result: lowering costs for residential users.

City council voted 5-1 to transfer the money at a Jan. 22 meeting.

Now, Boger says the city could do more to keep costs low. For one, Washougal could rethink its growth expectations in light of the recent slowdown in development activity.

He said the city has assumed "unrealistic growth rates."

The proposal has not received universal approval among councilors.

Councilor Paul Greenlee has disagreed with using reserve funds to pay for short-term gains.

"They should not be spent on relatively transitory operational expenses," he said during a council workshop meeting earlier in the month. "That is the road to ruin."

The rate reduction will last through 2013.

The city will spend the remainder of the year investigating ways to keep rates lower than originally proposed over the next two years, officials said.

Rates for two months are expected to be $220.25 in 2014 and $226.28 in 2015.

City council approved a five-year series of increases to Washougal's water, sewer and stormwater rates in 2010 to pay for infrastructure improvements to the water department. The work is intended to bring the city into compliance with state and federal regulations.

The move to reduce water rates has been more than a month in the works.

Earlier in the month, city officials began discussing whether to spread capital improvement projects for the water department over a longer period of time after first scrapping a proposal to partially privatize the water department.

That plan is pending approval from the Washington Department of Ecology.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities;tyler.graf@columbian.com.