CAMAS — Camas utility customers will soon pay more for their city utilities.
On Monday, the Camas City Council voted to adopt utility rate increases for a five-year period beginning in 2024.
The average Camas utility ratepayer will notice a 5 percent increase in their monthly utility bills in 2024, Camas Public Works Director Steve Wall said Monday.
Wall, along with FCS Group consultant Sergey Tarasov, presented four utility rate analyses to the Camas City Council during the council’s Sept. 5 and Sept. 18 workshops, and returned to a workshop held Oct. 16 to discuss the possibility of implementing a tiered system for the city’s water rates that could help promote water conservation.
On Monday, following no council discussion or public comments, council members voted unanimously to approve the increases to the city’s sewer and garbage-recycling rates and voted 6-1 — with Councilwoman Leslie Lewallen casting the only “no” votes — to approve the city’s water and stormwater rate increases for 2024-28.
According to Wall’s presentation to the council Monday, the combined average residential Camas utility customer currently pays $132.39 a month for water, sewer, stormwater and solid waste (garbage-recycling). With the increases council approved this week, the average customer will pay $6.58 more per month ($138.97) in 2024.
The new utilities rates adopted by the council will increase the utilities’ rates by 6 percent (water), 3.25 percent (sewer), 13.5 percent (stormwater) and 2.5 percent (garbage) annually from 2024 through 2028.
Pandemic, inflation cited
Tarasov told council members in October that it was a good time to evaluate the city’s utility rates in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, high inflation and supply chain issues. The rate increases, Wall and Tarasov said, will allow the city to continue providing essential utility services while also taking care of needed capital projects.
The council adopted higher utility rates in 2018 to help support ongoing capital improvements and account for higher operating and maintenance costs. That rate adjustment increased the average residential customer’s monthly water, sewer and stormwater utility bill by about 4 percent.
The city’s rate increases for its garbage-recycling services have been “minimal” over the past few years, with no increases in 2019 or 2020, and increases of 1 percent to 2 percent over the past three years, Wall told council members earlier this year.
Wall and Tarasov said the utilities’ operating and maintenance costs are expected to increase over the next few years, due to increasing construction, labor and benefits costs. They predicted general costs would increase by 4 percent in 2025, and by 3 percent a year through 2028; while construction costs were expected to increase by 6 percent in 2024, 4 percent in 2025 and 3.5 percent in 2026, 2027 and 2028. They also said labor costs would likely increase by 4 percent in 2025, and by 3 percent each year through 2028, while benefits costs would likely cost 6 percent more per year through 2028.
The city also has a wide range of capital projects planned for the future. In October, Wall presented a few of the capital needs associated with the city’s utilities — including a reservoir constructed in 1913 that needs $12 million worth of upgrades; the 1935 Lower Prune Hill reservoir and booster stations that will cost nearly $10 million to replace; a cracked and rusted sewer clarifier built in 1970 that will cost about $5.6 million to replace; a sewer lift station that requires $500,000 in replacement components; and a gear-replacement project at the upper dam on Round Lake that will cost $300,000.
In October, Wall and Tarasov discussed the possibility of changing over to a tiered rate structure that would reward customers who conserved water with lower rates. Though some council members seemed to favor that type of structure — which Tarasov said started to gain popularity in Washington in the early 2000s — the city’s current financial system is not yet able to handle a tiered utility rate structure.