By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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The City Council conducted the first part of a two-part public hearing last week on residential and business rates for electricity, garbage collection, stormwater and wastewater that could hike utility bills an average up to about $161 annually once they come into effect in early January.
The City Council’s hearing last Tuesday was continued to the council’s regular Oct. 16 meeting at 6 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 321 E. Fifth St., when the council could adopt the new rates for next year.
The UAC will discuss the rate proposal at its regular meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers before committee members consider making a recommendation to the council the same afternoon.
The proposed hike in wastewater rates will amount to an overall 5.8 percent increase for residents and businesses who get every-other-week garbage pickup service, a $13.14 monthly hike.
It amounts to a 6 percent increase for those who receive weekly pickup service, a $13.44 monthly hike.
That’s almost double the percentage increases that were anticipated when the city Utility Advisory Committee forwarded a proposed rate structure to the City Council after the committee met last month.
All other proposed increases for electricity, weekly and every-other-week garbage pickup, stormwater treatment and transfer station charges remained the same, and no increases were planned in wastewater rates.
The proposed increases:
-- Electric rates, an average $3.59 monthly increase, up 3.8 percent, for an average bill of about $99.65 based on about 1,300 kilowatt hours of usage a month.
-- Weekly garbage and recyclables pickup, a $1.10 increase, up 6.4 percent to a bill of $28.94 a month.
-- Every-other-week garbage and recyclables pickup, an 80-cent increase, up 8.2 percent to $21.37 a month.
-- Stormwater treatment, a $3 increase, up 50 percent, in 2013, with plans for a second increase in 2014 to $12.
-- Transfer station charges also would increase 7.2 percent more per ton for collection companies and self-haulers.
-- Self-haulers would pay $141.93 a ton; collection companies would pay $116.10 a ton.
There would be no increases in utility taxes or hikes in water charges.
The wastewater surcharge can be eliminated by the council in June 2015.
City Manager Dan McKeen said the city had planned to use $200,000 in economic development funds for the remediation and feasibility study but that it was determined that using the money for the study was “an inappropriate use” of the funds.
“We need to recover the $200,000 we took out in economic development funds as well as pay the cost estimated over the next two years” for the study, McKeen said Thursday.
City Attorney Bill Blore told the council Tuesday that the study must be conducted because the city has been named as a “potentially liable party” for contamination in Port Angeles Harbor caused by flow of raw sewage and stormwater, also known as combined sewer overflows, into the harbor.
“In a letter to the city, DOE [the state Department of Ecology] cited the city because of CSO discharge,” Blore said.
Other potentially liable parties taking part in the study, which will take about two years, are Nippon Industries USA, Georgia-Pacific LLC and the Port of Port Angeles, Bloor said.
The city’s share of the study will be $1 million to $1.5 million over two years, with each of the potentially liable parties paying an equal share, meaning the study will cost between $4 million and $5 million.
“We all have the same goals,” Bloor said.
“All four of these entities want to see the harbor cleaned up. We value the human health benefits of having a clean harbor,” he Bloor said.
“What is our liability is unknown right now.”
“The feasibility study will determine the extent of the city’s liability.”
During the hearing that followed Boor’s presentation, Shirley Nixon of Port Angeles questioned the city spending money from the $7.5 million graving yard settlement agreement with the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe on such projects as the esplanade for the waterfront project and the Gateway transit center.
“We need to start holding people accountable for past decisions and start making better decisions in the future,” Nixon said.
City Community and Economic Development Director Nathan West said Friday that both projects were specifically identified in the settlement agreement “as projects the money should be spent on.”
The state Department of Ecology estimates that 32 million gallons of sewage and stormwater flows into the harbor annually.
This fall, the city began a $41.7 million project — the largest public works project in the city’s history — that includes installing new pipe along the waterfront and has purchased a 5 million gallon storage tank from Rayonier that will store overflow sewage and stormwater before it is treated and deposited into the harbor.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.