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Jan. 25, 2022

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Is everything more expensive? From food to rent to gas, Clark County residents paying more for necessities

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Drivers are paying more at the gas pump than this time last year.
Drivers are paying more at the gas pump than this time last year. (Associated Press files) Photo Gallery

Vancouver and Clark County are becoming increasingly expensive places to live. While some costs have risen significantly, others crept upward in a nickel-and-dime trend that’s accelerated over the past year.

Those increases are reflected in the national inflation rate of 6.8 percent, though some of the region’s expenses are rising at a faster rate — while some are hardly rising, if at all.

Our reporters tracked down these costs of living in Vancouver and Clark County. Here’s what we found.

Food

The highest price increase for any category of food was “meats, poultry, fish and eggs,” which rose by 22.5 percent from October 2020 to October 2021 in Seattle. Food and beverages, in general, rose by 8.1 percent in that time.

Southwest Washington regional economist Scott Bailey said he suspects that a pound of butter at a grocery store in Seattle costs the same as in Vancouver, and online shopping evens the field.

Calculating inflation

Although there’s no Clark County-specific data on many price increases, including food costs, data collected in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area show the most likely case for Vancouver. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics tracks Seattle’s Consumer Price Index to get a grip on how much prices are rising. (It tracked the Portland area, including Clark County, before stopping in 2017.)

“The federal government every month sends a ton of people out to stores, presumably online now, and they check on prices on a long list of items,” said Scott Bailey, regional economist for Southwest Washington. “They look for the price of a pound of butter, a white dress shirt and so on. They also do an ongoing survey of families. If you’re in the survey, you keep a diary of everything you buy and how much it costs. Then you compile that into average household expenditures.”

Each month, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics collects prices from 75 urban areas across the country, including the Seattle area. Nationally, it collects information from about 6,000 households and about 22,000 retail establishments. Local taxes from the purchases are included in the index. Seattle’s sales tax is 10.1 percent and Vancouver’s is 8.5 percent, which should be considered while comparing the two cities’ prices of goods.

— Will Campbell

In general, Seattle’s food and beverage costs increased by 8.1 percent.

Rising food costs also impact restaurants. Mighty Bowl owner Steve Valenta said restaurants are dealing with the spiking ingredient prices, and much of those increases are being passed on to customers.

Normally, a restaurant can cut down on fringe ingredients and order in bulk to save, but with supply chain shortages, that’s not an option.

“We can’t think of a way for having these costs not pass directly to the consumer,” he said.

It’s not clear how much restaurants will increase prices, but Valenta said it is likely most places over time will have to hike what they charge.

In Seattle, restaurant food prices increased by 6.6 percent from October 2020 to October 2021, according to the CPI.

Housing

As of last quarter, apartment rents in Vancouver had increased at a rate of 8.9 percent this year, according to CoStar, a commercial real estate information company. That’s a $124.60 monthly increase for a one-bedroom rental.

The current average monthly rent in Vancouver for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,400. Two-bedroom units are averaging $1,575 a month and three-bedroom units are costing $1,870 a month.

Much of the issue is due to population growth and costlier, taller apartment buildings; it’s safe to say that Vancouver is in a development boom, and the demand for apartments is high.

Demand is also high for homes, and that drove median home prices up in Clark County from $410,000 in November 2020 to $483,500 this November. That represents a year-over-year increase of 17.9 percent.

Rising interest rates may slightly cool demand in 2022 by raising monthly payments on new mortgages, but real estate experts say the market dynamics do not suggest prices will fall anytime soon.

“It’s going to take a long time for inventory to build up for the increase in pricing to slow down,” said Terry Wollam, a broker at Wollam and Associates.

Gasoline and Transportation

It’s not a secret to drivers that they’re paying more at the gas pump than this time last year. Drivers in the Vancouver area were paying $2.692 on average a year ago for regular gasoline. That’s according to AAA Gas Prices. Now, it’s $3.777, resulting in a 40.3 percent increase.

For premium users, the price over the past year has increased from $3.010 to $4.113 per gallon; diesel users saw their prices rise from $2.756 per gallon to $3.793.

It’s not just Clark County’s drivers paying more. The average price for regular gasoline in Washington has risen to $3.863 per gallon, up from $2.752 a year ago. Nationally, it was $2.221 per gallon a year ago but is $3.302 now.

New and used car prices also spiked by 20.9 percent in Seattle from October 2020 to October 2021, according to the city’s Consumer Price Index, which economist Scott Bailey said is a good indicator of Vancouver’s car prices.

Insurance

A November report from Insurify, one of the nation’s largest rate-comparison platforms, showed car insurance rates have gone up nationwide by more than 12 percent this year. Premiums for homeowners insurance have also climbed by 4 to 5 percent each year since 2017, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

But for many Washington residents, especially seniors, rate increases this year were far steeper than average. Insurance companies blame the increases on Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler for banning the use of credit scoring data to determine rates.

In March, Kreidler issued an emergency rule temporarily prohibiting the use of credit history to determine car, homeowners, and renters insurance rates. Although a Thurston County Superior Court judge overturned Kreidler’s rule in October, insurance companies have yet to return to using credit scoring data. They say they’re waiting for the outcome of a proposed three-year ban on credit scoring data Kreidler had been considering before he will make any changes to policy rates.

Kreidler says he is “carefully considering all of the public comments we have received and will not make any final decisions about the rule until I evaluate the information insurers provide.”

Internet and Cable

Inflation has even crept into cable rates and internet, with Comcast subscribers seeing their average monthly bills rise by 3 percent nationally, according to the company. The increases went into effect in Clark County on Jan. 1.

Cost of living: By the numbers

National inflation rate: 6.8%

—From Nov. 2020 to Nov. 2021 Bureau of Labor and Statistics

Food: 8.1%

General food and beverage prices from Oct. 2020 to Oct. 2021 in Seattle. Source: BLS

Rent: 8.9%

As of last quarter, apartment rents in Vancouver. Source: CoStar

Home Prices: 17.9%

Median home price in Clark County from Nov. 2020 to Nov. 2021. Source: RMLS

Cars: 20.9%

New and used car prices in  Seattle from Oct. 2020 to Oct. 2021. Source: BLS

Insurance

  • Auto insurance, on average in 2021 nationally: 12%. Source: Insurify
  • Homeowners insurance, average each year since 2017: 4-5%. Source: Insurance Information Institute

Fuel Prices: 40.3%

For regular grade year-over-year in Clark County. Source: AAA Gas Prices

City Water Meter: 4.9%

Price per 1-inch of service per month. Source: city of Vancouver

Stormwater: 5%

For a single-family home per month. Source: city of Vancouver

Cable & Internet: 3%

Average nationally in 2021. Source: Comcast

Medical Services: 2%

2021 year-over-year average. Source: Altarum

“Content providers continue to increase the costs they charge us to carry their content, with broadcast TV and sports being the biggest drivers of price increases,” said Amy Keiter, director of external communications at Comcast Oregon/Southwest Washington.

Comcast is the only cable provider in Vancouver and unincorporated Clark County, but it also services Battle Ground, Camas, La Center, Ridgefield and Washougal.

Fees went up for everything from content to equipment. The broadcast TV fee went up to $22.65 from $19.45. Choice TV went up from $30 to $32.50. Entertainment fees will rise by $2, while sports and news fees will increase by $3. And subscribers will pay $2.50 more for their box or adapter.

Beginning Jan. 1, Comcast’s internet-only customers will see the prices for various speed packages rise by about $3 per month.

Utilities

City of Vancouver service prices for a one-inch water main rose from $18.55 per month in 2020 to $19.48 per month in 2021 and will again increase to $20.45 per month in 2022, according to the city of Vancouver. That’s a 97 cent difference between 2021 and 2022.

Rising prices

Seattle’s grocery item price year-over-year increases from October 2020, according to the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue-specific Consumer Price Index, which is the closest representation of Vancouver’s cost of living, according to regional economist Scott Bailey.

Cereals and bakery products: 5.1 percent increase

Meats, poultry, fish and eggs: 22.5 percent increase

Dairy and related products: 8.2 percent increase

Fruits and vegetables: 8.6 percent increase

Nonalcoholic beverages and beverage materials: 3.2 percent increase

Alcoholic beverages: 9.9 percent increase

City of Vancouver stormwater charges for single-family homes saw an increase of 59 cents per month in 2021, and beginning next year, the rate will increase by 62 cents to $13.01 per month, according to the city of Vancouver.

The rates for NW Natural gas customers in Washington increased by $9.15 a month, which began Nov. 1.

“The Purchased Gas Adjustment reflects a pass-through of natural gas commodity costs to customers. The changes are driven by multiple factors, including economy-wide supply and demand impacts during the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with higher prices experienced during last winter’s heating season,” NW Natural wrote in a news release.

Waste Connections is considering a 2 to 5 percent increase for 2022, but the company has not decided on it, according to a Waste Connections spokesperson.

Clark Public Utilities customers will see no rate increases next year, according to a utility spokesperson.

Health Care

The health care industry is seeing lower levels of inflation compared with the average 6.8 percent increase for most consumer products nationwide. Medical services only increased by an average of 2 percent nationwide since October 2020, according to the nonprofit health care analysis group Altarum.

Long-term contracts are the reason, according to Altarum researchers. Across the health care industry, from insurance rates to doctors’ visits, prices are negotiated for a future period. What that means is that there isn’t a lack of inflation for medical service costs, but a delay before those costs are factored into contracts when they are negotiated.

A 5 to 7 percent price increase across the health care industry could be on the horizon, which would be the fastest increase in health care costs since 1993.

The American Rescue Plan Act also provided additional savings for insurance plans, mitigating the impact of inflation on insurance costs. More than 226,000 people signed up for Washington’s state health insurance during the most recent open enrollment period, and 70 percent received savings under the new law. The average plan is less than $120 per month, according to Washington Healthplanfinder, the state’s health insurance online marketplace.

Education

Property owners within the boundaries of Evergreen Public Schools saw a slight increase in tax rates from $3.79 to $3.90 per $1,000 of assessed value. An special election for the district in February features a replacement levy that would maintain the current rate.

In 2020, property owners served by Vancouver Public Schools saw a rate of $3.08 per $1,000 of assessed value in a combination of an operations and maintenance levy, a technology levy and a 2017 construction bond. In 2021, that rate increased to $3.71 per $1,000 assessed value with a supplemental levy intended to maintain smaller class sizes and assist teachers.

College tuition rates didn’t trend in any major direction. Students at Clark College saw a slight increase, indicative of a trend in years past. For an in-state student taking 15 credit hours per quarter of lower-division classes, tuition increased by approximately 2.68 percent. That trend remained relatively similar for students taking upper-division classes and for those from out of state.

At Washington State University Vancouver, tuition rates decreased by about 6.34 percent. In-state students paid an average of $11,761 per year in 2020, which decreased to an average of $11,016 in 2021.

Child Care

The cost of child care remains high but doesn’t appear to have increased drastically over the last year. The Consumer Price Index for the Seattle area showed tuition, school fees and child care increased by 0.8 percent since October of last year.

“Rates were fairly flat during the pandemic to date but are beginning to react more to the market pressures,” said Michel Nelson, director of family and community engagement at Child Care Aware Washington.

“We find costs are wildly different at the micro (community) level, but all are expensive for families and not enough for providers’ business expenses,” Nelson said. “This will only be exacerbated by inflation.”

Public Transportation

Not all transportation has become more expensive. The C-Tran Board of Directors unanimously voted to approve a temporary 12-month fare reduction for its local and express routes. The new fares kicked in Jan. 1.

Local bus fares were lowered from $1.80 to $1 per ride for adults, while the adult express fare dropped from $3.85 to $2.50 per ride. C-Van fares also fell from $1.80 to $1. The transit authority’s regional fares, however, did not change from 2021. Some honored and youth fares were also discounted.

“The temporary fare reduction is primarily focused on easing the burden of transportation for those who continue to rely on C-Tran, and for those who may return to our system during the next year,” read a press release announcing the change.

Property Taxes

Property taxes aren’t directly affected by inflation, but that doesn’t mean their costs can’t go up — or that inflation doesn’t impact how those tax revenues can be spent.

Clark County Treasurer Alishia Topper said a state-imposed guideline limits property tax increases by taxing districts to 1 percent annually. When residents see a tax increase, it’s often linked to voter-approved levies or bond measures. However, the limitation of the 1 percent means the government’s spending is impacted by the high inflation rates.

An example of that is the Port of Vancouver, where port commissioners unanimously approved a property tax increase in line with state limits.

“This increase is in alignment with the state law, but it does not keep up with our purchasing power,” said Jack Burkman, the board’s vice president. “So even though this is an increase in the property tax receipts, this is not going to keep us whole with respect to purchasing power. And that is reflected in our budget.”

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