Port Angeles City Council eyes utility rate hike

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The City Council moved a step closer Tuesday to approval of a new utility rate ordinance that would impose five straight years of increases on residential customers.

The hikes include a 9 percent increase in residential electric rates to $113.52 a month for the average residential customer beginning Jan. 2.

Large-volume users such as the Peninsula Golf Club also would see rates increase 5.25 percent in 2015 and 15.25 percent in 2016.

Some ratepayers will not see increases.

City officials say the goal of the ordinance is to phase in — over five years — the true cost of providing utilities across rate classes.

“In the past, residential rates were supporting lower commercial rates as far as the true cost of service,” Craig Fulton, city Public Works and Utilities director, said Wednesday.

Brief hearing

A public hearing on the utility rate ordinance lasted about five minutes Tuesday before it was continued to the next regular council meeting Sept. 16 without council discussion.

It may be approved after council members allow for further public comment at the Sept. 16 meeting, which will begin at 6 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 321 E. Fifth St.

The rates may not be the last of utility increases that city residents could see in 2015, Fulton said.

The city Utility Advisory Committee will discuss potential additional stormwater rate increases for 2015, which Fulton said are necessary to comply with the federal Clean Water Act, when it meets at 3 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

Council members Sissi Bruch and Brad Collins were both out of town and did not participate telephonically in Tuesday’s meeting.

Edna Willadsen of Port Angeles was the lone resident to comment at the hearing.

‘Overtaxed us’

“You have to realize you’ve overtaxed us,” she told the council Tuesday.

On Wednesday, she expanded her comment in an interview.

“You reach a point where it’s not affordable to live here,” she said.

“It’s coming to a point where it’s not doable for the average citizen when you start taking more of their disposable earnings.”

Fulton said city officials also are trying to avoid going into debt to upgrade infrastructure over time by “building up a small bank account.”

Some piping in the city, for example, is 100 years old, he said.

The ordinance calls for the following increases for 2015:

■ Electric rates would increase from $104.39 to $113.52 for an average residential customer, an 8.75 percent increase.

“Most commercial accounts would average 2.37 percent, but some could be increased by as much as 7 percent,” Phil Lusk, deputy director of power and telecommunication systems, said in an email.

“Other commercial accounts that have historically been paying more than their allocated cost of service, such as the Olympic Medical Center and nonprofit entities, would not see an electric rate increase in 2015,” he added.

■ Water rates would increase from $38.08 to $39.48 for average residential customers, a 3.68 percent increase, Lusk said.

Commercial customers’ monthly bills for water would increase from $53.41 to $58.16, an 8.89 percent increase.

■ Wastewater rates would increase from $46.70 to $51.35 for residential customers, a 9.96 percent increase, and from $42.02 to $47.61 for commercial customers, a 13.30 percent increase.

Fulton said Wednesday that he did not have estimates available on percentage increases after five years.

About 100 large-volume water users that pay irrigation water rates, such as the city, Clallam County, Peninsula College and Peninsula Golf Club, would see the largest increases, Fulton said.

Irrigation ratepayers would continue not to pay wastewater fees, which Fulton termed “a huge savings for customers.”

The city, which consumes about 30 percent of the total irrigation-related volume, would see an increase from $48,000 projected for 2014 to about $51,000 in 2015, he said.

The Peninsula Golf Club accounts for 13 percent of the total irrigation-related volume and will see an increase from a projected $14,000 in 2014 to $14,700 in 2015, with a 15.25 percent increase slated for irrigation users in 2016.

“With the combination of property taxes and this substantial increase in water rates and decline of membership due to attrition, and the economy in the area, this will be a burden for the golf club for sure,” club President Todd Negus said Wednesday.

“It’s not going to be healthy for our situation whatsoever.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 04. 2014 5:52PM
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