Slight Port Angeles utility hike likely; residents complain of high rates

PORT ANGELES — City customers can expect a slight increase in utility bills next year if the Port Angeles City Council adopts a recommended adjustment.

Average residential utility bills would go from $280.88 per month to $284.47 per month in 2018 if the council approves a proposed ordinance Dec. 19.

That’s a monthly increase of $3.59, or 1.28 percent, from current average rates.

“Compared to previous years, this is a very nominal increase that we’ve worked hard to get you to,” Senior Accountant Glen Goodworth told the council last Tuesday.

Electric rates for city customers would not change in 2018 under the proposal despite a 9.49 percent Bonneville Power Administration rate increase.

“That is very significant,” City Manager Dan McKeen said.

“That would normally translate into approximately about a 6 percent increase right off the bat without any other increase that you typically have for that utility.

“We are bringing forward a zero percent increase for next year for the electric utility, even though we’re going to be paying 9.5 percent more for power,” McKeen added.

BPA provides wholesale power to Port Angeles and many other utilities in the region.

The city was able to hold electric rates flat despite the BPA rate hike by containing costs, using rate stabilization funds from a prior settlement and by making other adjustments within the utility, McKeen said.

Electric rates for residential customers increased by 8.7 percent in 2015, 5.0 percent in 2016 and another 5 percent in 2017.

Under the one-year proposal, water rates would increase by 0.23 percent in 2018. Wastewater rates would go up 1.8 percent, stormwater rates would climb 5.4 percent and solid waste collection rates would rise 5.9 percent.

The council will consider the new rates after a second reading of the ordinance at its Dec. 19 meeting at City Hall.

“What I want to stress to the council and to the community is that we just didn’t take a one-year approach and say ‘Let’s look at this year and then worry about next year and the year after that down the road,’ ” McKeen said at the Tuesday council meeting.

“We looked at it from a multi-year perspective on many of our utilities so that hopefully for the next few years we’ll have some positive messages to the community and the council as we move forward with utility rates.”

Several speakers in a public hearing and public comment period complained about high utility rates in the city.

“I appreciate you guys doing your part in not raising the rates again this year,” Eddie Hughes told the council.

“But I would really appreciate it if you looked into somehow finding a way to lower them.”

Hughes said he pays more for utilities in Port Angeles than he did in New York City. He and others said high utility bills are pricing some residents out of their homes.

Jesse Wiederspiel, who moved to Port Angeles from southwest Washington in January, said he was “flabbergasted” by his first utility bill.

“It was like $450 for me, living by myself, for whatever my utility bill includes,” he said.

Wiederspiel said he shut off the heat in every room of his house except the living room for the rest of the winter and used no heat in the summer.

“I was also flabbergasted by the fact that I never had any heat and I used a normal amount of water and I could never get my bill down under $200 a month, which I never bargained for,” Wiederspiel said.

“This is something that will drive people out of this town.”

The City Council has identified reasonable utility rates as a top priority.

“It has been articulated to staff that we need to take a really good look at those rates,” McKeen said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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