Washougal water rate plans near completion

61 percent would pay less in 1st year, consultants say

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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WASHOUGAL — Plans to restructure Washougal's sewer and water rates are nearing completion, with the city council expected to have an ordinance to review by Oct. 28, ahead of its Nov. 4 meeting.

At the council's Monday evening work session, the consulting group tasked with looking into the proposed restructure said 61 percent of customers' bills would decrease next year as a result of the plan. That plan would keep the city's rates flat for multifamily users, generally apartment dwellers, and provide some monetary relief for low-water users.

The other 39 percent of customers would see their rates increase in 2014, however. High-water users would fall into that group.

Washougal residents are in their third year of a five-year, 122-percent increase for water, sewer and storm water rates. The city says the increases are necessary to pay for roughly $15 million in upgrades to its wastewater treatment facility. Those upgrades are necessary to meet state and federal environmental regulations, the city says.

Following a number of public meetings about the increases earlier in the year, city officials said they would work to lessen the financial burden on water customers in the coming years.

The most recent report, conducted by FCS Group, concluded what many city officials and citizens had long thought — that multifamily customers had been subsidizing other customer classes. The city's goal of restructuring the water rates is intended to create a more equitable system based on how much water and sewer service a household uses. Many customers had complained that under the current system, that didn't happen.

For single-family homes, the city would move toward a three-tiered rate structure designed based on patterns of use — low, average and high.

The reinvestment plan presented Monday calls for it to be phased in over a series of years. Over the next five years, there would be an annual 3 percent rate adjustment for water use.

"But in spite of there being a 3 percent increase, the redesign indicates 61 percent of the customers will see a decrease in water (rates)," City Administrator David Scott said.

However, the number of customers who will see a decrease in how much they pay for water will dwindle over the years. By 2018, the figure will have dropped from 61 percent to 36 percent, according to the report, based on the years-long phase-in process.

Sewers

The city's sewer rate strategy would maintain the existing rate structures. There would be no increase from 2014 to 2016, but a 2-percent increase from 2017 to 2018.

The city plans to conduct a comprehensive public awareness campaign after the city council accepts an ordinance. The FCS Group's report can be found on its website at http://www.cityofwashougal.us.