Port Townsend water rates likely to rise

New system, contract with mill in works

PORT TOWNSEND — The pipes delivering water to people in Port Townsend — nearly 30 miles of them — were last replaced in the middle of the 20th century. They’re coming to the end of their “design life,” city officials say.

This month, the Port Townsend City Council is looking at building and paying for a new pipeline and updating the whole water system.

With a construction bill of $45 million over the next 20 years, that means hikes in household water bills and in connection fees for new homes.

“We’re down to the wire here. There’s lots of work to get done,” Public Works Director Steve King said during Monday night’s workshop meeting.

The city is wrapping up negotiations with the Port Townsend Paper Co. for a new operating agreement: one that will have the mill and city sharing the cost of the water system over the next 100 years.

Historically, King said, the mill has paid only the costs of operating the system, which pipes in water from the Quilcene watershed.

The paper company and the city cooperated, in 1927, to construct the original pipeline, called the Olympic Gravity Water System. The city issued a bond while the mill covered the majority of the payments.

The new agreement, King noted, aims to have the company also pay for the millions of gallons of water it uses.

That means rate and fee increases for everyone, he said in an interview Tuesday.

On household water-sewer bills, “an $8 to $14 increase is what we’re looking at,” King said, adding the average residential bill in the city is $146 per month.

As for those who want to build new homes in Port Townsend, higher connection fees are likely. The current hookup charges for water and sewer total $8,252; the proposed increase next year would put them at $10,288.

The fee schedule hasn’t been adjusted for inflation since 2015, King said, noting the increases are based on the 3.2 percent growth in construction costs.

He also showed the council a comparison table with connection fees in other cities across the state. In this region, Port Townsend is roughly in the middle: Sequim’s water and sewer hookup charges total $15,732 while Port Angeles’ add up to $4,520.

Mayor Michelle Sandoval, a real estate broker, observed that builders were busy this summer in Port Townsend. In August alone, she said, 32 single-family home permits were issued.

“I can’t see it slowing down,” she said, adding the fee increases — and the revenue they will bring — ought to be enacted sooner, not later.

At the same time, as the City Council considers the updated connection fee schedule, it also will have a chance to decide whether to continue deferring hookup fees for builders of “affordable housing.”

That’s defined as housing for residents who earn up to 80 percent of the area median income (AMI).

In addition, the council could vote to defer those charges for developers of “workforce housing,” for people who make 80 percent to 120 percent of the AMI.

The draft agreement between the city and the mill, along with its associated rate and fee changes, will be presented during the City Council’s meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday; final approval will be on the Dec. 13 meeting agenda.

Links to view the meetings are at cityofpt.us under Government and Agendas & Minutes.

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Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or durbanidelapaz@peninsuladailynews.com.

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