Sequim considers new water rates; public hearing set Oct. 13

SEQUIM –– Consumption will factor more into the bills of city water users if a new rate structure is approved by the Sequim City Council.

Public Works Director Paul Haines presented the council last week with a revamped structure for water rates that would lower the base consumption rate from 800 cubic feet of water per month to 600 cubic feet.

Additional consumption charges would be applied to those who use between 600 to 1,600 cubic feet.

Those who use more than 1,600 cubic feet would pay an additional 25 percent per cubic foot.

“Our thought in lowering that is to make rates more conservation sensitive and to give our customers more control over how much they want their bill to be,” Haines said.

A public hearing on the proposed rate structure, followed by consideration of approval, is scheduled for the next city council meeting at 6 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Sequim Transit Center, 190 W. Cedar St.

The council had raised water and sewer rates by 4 percent for all users in the 2014 budget.

The base rate for water service for a single-family home rose from $22.22 per month to $23.11 per month.

The base rate for sewer service rose from $58.42 per month to $60.76 per month.

City officials studied water rates over the past year with the goal of making rates more equitable and to encourage water conservation.

The city currently has 69 customers who use more than 1,600 gallons per month, Haines said.

Another 190 customers would be paying higher rates under the plan because they use more than 600 gallons per month and less than 800 gallons.

“Hopefully, they can reduce their use and realize those savings,” Haines said.

The plan calls for changes to the rate structure to be phased in over the next four years.

A study by Peninsula Financial Consulting last year said the city needed 4 percent annual revenue increases in each of the water and sewer funds through 2019 to fund capital improvements that will be needed in the next several years.

The new rate structure does add funding to both accounts, leaving an annual rate increase of 2.69 percent for water users over the next four years and 1.42 percent to sewer bills.

But those averages, Haines said, do not apply to every class of users.

Some would see higher increases while others might see their bills drop.

“A gallon of water is a gallon of water. What we’re trying to do here is make that charge unified across classifications,” Haines said.

Under the current rate structure, Sequim’s residential water users — in single homes or multi-family homes — account for 60 percent of the city’s total billings, though they use 54.2 percent of the city’s water.

Commercial users, irrigators and public facilities pay less for the water they use, accounting for 36.8 percent of billings and 40.2 percent of use.

Adult-care facilities carry an especially light load of the city’s water costs, Haines added, using 5.6 percent of the city’s water and paying 3.2 percent of the city’s bills.

The disparity is even greater in sewer billings, as residential users account for 74.5 percent of the city’s billings, though their estimated actual sewer use is 60.1 percent of the whole system.

Commercial, public and hotel/motel users account for just 22.2 percent of billings, though use is estimated at 31.5 percent of the system.

Adult-care facilities account for an estimated 8.4 percent of the sewer system’s use but just 3.4 percent of billings.

The new structure would reclassify adult-care facilities as multi-family developments like apartment complexes, which would lead to higher rates.

Those increases would be slowly phased in by 2018, Haines said.

Multi-family buildings would be charged 95 percent of single-family residential rates and hotels and motels would pay 75 percent of that.

“Why should they pay less?” Councilman Erik Erichsen asked during last Monday’s council meeting.

“You’re penalizing the people who own a home because they own a home.”

Haines, though, said multi-family buildings and hotels cost less to service because they have one hookup to maintain.

In a contrasting move, the Port Angeles City Council is considering a proposal to do away with its three-tier, consumption-based system with a flat rate charged to all water users to encourage, in part, more watering of flowers, gardens and lawns.

But Port Angeles uses only about 10 percent of its municipal water right, where Sequim may feel a pinch on its water supply within the next decade.

New water rights for the city’s supply is part of that list of pending capital improvements.

“We are more than a decade from reaching that critical point,” Haines said.

“But we need at least a decade to prepare for those kinds of changes.”

________

Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Senior Reporter Paul Gottlieb contributed to this report.

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