Port Angeles approves utility rate hikes

Expansion of assistance to be considered

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council has approved utility rate increases for water, wastewater and medic 1 utilities, with an amendment to eventually expand the utility assistance program.

The current water, wastewater, and medic 1 utility rates will expire on Dec. 31. In an effort to lessen the blow of the rate hike, staff presented to the council on Oct. 4 customer cost-saving scenarios which included using money from a National Park Service fund specifically set aside for capital or rate stabilization.

City Council held a second reading and public hearing of the ordinances on Tuesday, during which Council member Lindsay Schromen-Wawrin moved to amend the ordinances to include expansion of the utility assistance programs

“I move to adopt the ordinances as read and to appoint a temporary subcommittee of up to three council members or Utility Advisory Committee members to work with our staff to develop a policy to expand our low-income utility assistance program so that it provides assistance to any residential utility customer who is housing cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income on utility and housing costs,” Schromen-Wawrin said.

Motion and ordinance were passed 5-2 with the dissenting votes coming from Deputy Mayor Brendan Meyer and from Schromen-Wawrin himself who had previously moved to table the adoption of the rate-setting ordinances to allow for city staff to develop a policy for the utility assistance program.

However, that original motion failed, with timing being the main issue.

“The reason for tabling these rates is the staff recommends rates include putting money from outside the utilities into those funds to help soften the blow for everybody,” Schromen-Wawrin said.

”What I want us to do is soften the blow for the people who need it and those of us who can pay it are able to pay it and don’t need the subsidy,” he added.

The current utility assistance program offers a 25-to-5-percent discount to qualified low-income residents provided they apply for the discount.

Finance Director Sarina Carrizosa outlined potential impacts this action would have on the development of the 2023 budget.

“Rate setting allows enough revenue generations to offset our expenditures, so if we are not able to work out the policies and get these rates approved to generate enough revenue, we would be short on the revenue we are collecting for the budget year,” Carrizosa said.

Additionally, the move would require a change in cost-of-service-analysis methodology and that process could take up to a year, time the city does not have, she said.

Council member LaTrisha Suggs liked the idea of expanding the program but disagreed with Schromen-Wawrin’s assessment of who would benefit most from the proposed subsidy.

“Middle-income folks are struggling too and many don’t meet the guidelines to qualify for assistance,” Suggs said.

Council member Mike French initially supported the motion and offered the idea that if a policy could not be developed that the rates would be adopted anyway.

“If we do decide that this is too thorny of an issue, we can just set rates a month from now,” French said.

French later backed out of his support for the initial motion due to timing and budget concerns.

The current medic 1 (medical transportation) residential rate is $111.48 per year. The new rate with stabilization will raise it to $148.45, a nearly $37 increase.

Commercial rates for medic 1 are $117.53 with stabilization, the rate will go up to $150.16 per year, a $32.63 increase.

The current residential water base rate is $38.50 per month, with consumption charges that range from $4.94 to $14.82 for low consumption, $23.51 for medium consumption, and $1,193.23 for high usage for total monthly bills of $43.44 to $1,231.73 depending on the size of the water meter.

Eighty-eight percent of water and wastewater customers are residential customers with water meters in the 500-1,150-cubic-foot range, placing most customers in the low to medium-consumption category, according to city staff.

Water rates with capacity increase ($140,000 built into utility expenses) and stabilization would be a base rate of $40.86 with consumption charges ranging from $6.30 to $18.90 for low consumption, $29.98 for medium, and $1,246.42 for high for total monthly bills ranging from $47.16 to $1,287.27.

Rates with a capacity increase would be a base rate increase of 48.88 with consumption charges ranging from $16.13- $48.38 for low consumption, $ 74.18 for medium, and $483.75 for high for total monthly bills of $65.00-$532.75.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached by email at kpark@soundpublishing.com.

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