Port Angeles budget maintains utility rates

PORT ANGELES — A unanimous Port Angeles City Council has approved a 2021 spending plan that maintains city services and keeps utility rates stable.

The council voted 7-0 to adopt the $132.6 million citywide budget after a second reading and public hearing Tuesday.

Council members also passed an ordinance to carry existing water and wastewater utility rates into 2021 and 2022.

“I appreciate that we can deliver a small amount of good news that our wastewater and water utility rates will continue to be steady for another few years,” Council member Mike French said in the virtual meeting.

Most city customers will see no change in their electric rates in 2021, city Finance Director Sarina Carrizosa has said.

“We’re really excited that the Finance Department was able to help us find a way to keep rates relatively stable for all of our utilities, for the most part, going into 2021,” Public Works and Utilities Director Thomas Hunter said Thursday.

The city budget continues all services into next year despite significant challenges from COVID-19.

“The hardships of the pandemic will have lasting impacts that are at this time unknown,” City Manager Nathan West said in a budget message.

“Our ability to stay vigilant, flexible and carry necessary programs forward to our community will help us get back on track and move toward a promising future.”

Total spending in the citywide budget was reduced by $2.1 million from the amended 2020 budget.

The $21.5 million general fund budget for day-to-day operations was balanced through the use of $787,600 in reserves. The budgeted draw on general fund reserves would result in an ending fund balance of $5.4 million at the end of 2021.

The city budget includes $33.6 million for capital projects such as Lincoln and Race street safety improvements, the Olympic Discovery Trail at Hill Street and public restrooms.

“I really appreciate the hard work that staff does in all departments to get us to a balanced budget, particularly in a year like this,” Mayor Kate Dexter said in the meeting.

Carrizosa said the city was able to keep water and wastewater rates flat though 2022 because of savings from the planned refunding of a 2009-2010 water and wastewater bond.

French said he and other council members who were running for office in 2017 heard from constituents that they could not afford continued utility rate hikes.

“I really appreciate staff hearing that message loud and clear over the last few years and working extremely hard, being very creative in finding ways to keep our utility rates as steady as they can be,” French said.

Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said utility rates had increased between 1.9 and 8.1 percent between 2012 and 2017.

“Since then, if you look at 2018 through what we’re projecting in 2021, the net change in the utility rate is actually negative,” Schromen-Wawrin said.

City staff had found efficiencies to lower rates while maintaining vital infrastructure, Schromen-Wawrin said.

“That’s really remarkable work, and I think particularly the public utilities and finance departments should be commended for that,” Schromen-Wawrin said.

“So thank you for your amazing wizardry there.”

The 2021 city budget is available at cityofpa.us.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].

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