Attention Port Orchard utility customers

Just a reminder that the Port Orchard City Council will hold a public hearing on a proposed water rate increase at 7 p.m. Tuesday at city hall. A second hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Aug. 9, when the council may vote on the increase.

If approved as recommended by the city’s utility committee, the rate hike could more than double the amount customers pay on a bi-monthly basis. The city, however, is considering a discount for low water users to assist seniors on fixed incomes and families struggling to pay their water bills. The discount would also be an incentive for conservation, committee members have said.

The water rate increase will be the city’s fourth utility rate increase since 2009.

In 2009, the city implemented a $7 per month stormwater fee, as required under state and federal guidelines. Also in 2009, city residents saw a $5.50 monthly increase in sewer rates to make up for a loss of surcharge revenue paid by McCormick Woods residents. When McCormick Woods was annexed into the city, the surcharge went away.

In 2010, there was another $9 per month sewer rate increase to cover a revenue shortfall, capital projects and debt service on the city’s portion of the Port Orchard Joint Wastewater Treatment Facility.

Members of the utility committee say that, before 2009, sewer and water rates had not been raised in years, so collections have not kept up with inflation.

The city’s capital plan for its water system — which is part of what triggered the increase — originally was for a 10-year period, but the committee recommends extending projects over 20 years to soften the blow to rate payers, said Councilman John Clauson, a member of the utility committee.

Once all utility rates have been reset, Clauson said, the council hopefully won’t have to adjust them again for some time. He couldn’t make any guarantees about whether rates would remain adequate over the 20 years of the capital plan.

Here’s the story I wrote a couple of weeks ago.

By Chris Henry
chenry@kitsapsun.com
360-792-9219
PORT ORCHARD — The city of Port Orchard is preparing for a water rate increase that could more than double rates to address an operating shortfall, repairs and upgrades.
City residents will get their say on the rate hike at a city council meeting, 7 p.m. July 26 at city hall.
The city’s public works department was short by more than $200,000 in 2010 just to provide the service. The city made up the difference, as it has since 2008, by dipping into the utility’s reserve fund. Closing the operating revenue gap would require adding $2.97 per month to the city’s base rate, city officials estimate.
The city also plans repairs and renovations to the system that will cost $18 million over 20 years. City crews have identified pump stations that need repairs and water pipes that need replacement, among other projects. Public works officials have prioritized projects and made recommendations about those that require immediate attention and those that can wait.
Public works sets money aside for maintenance of equipment over time, which will cover about $6 million of the $18 million capital cost, leaving a gap of about $12 million. That works out to $8.77 per customer per month to cover capital costs.
The utility committee is recommending a total increase of $11.74 per month or $23.48 bimonthly, added to the current bimonthly base rate of $18.50, for a total bimonthly rate of $41.98. The base rate allows for up to 3,000 gallons of water per month, and the city has two additional tiers for higher levels of consumption.
The committee has considered a 50 percent discount on the increase for low water usage customers, who would pay $30.24 bimonthly if the recommended rate increase is approved. But any decrease in revenue would have to be made up elsewhere, said Councilman John Clauson, utility committee member.
City residents have already been hit with three utility rate increases over the past two years.
In 2009, the city implemented a $7 per month stormwater fee, as required under state and federal guidelines. Also in 2009, city residents saw a $5.50 monthly increase in sewer rates to make up for a loss of surcharge revenue paid by McCormick Woods residents. When McCormick Woods was annexed into the city, the surcharge went away.
In 2010, there was another $9 per month sewer rate increase to cover a revenue shortfall, capital projects and debt service on the city’s portion of the Port Orchard Joint Wastewater Treatment Facility.
Members of the utility committee say that, before 2009, sewer and water rates had not been raised in years, so collections have not kept up with inflation.
According to Clauson, the capital plan originally was for a 10-year period, but the committee recommends extending projects over 20 years to soften the blow to rate payers.
“It’s not like the system is falling apart and we have to replace it tomorrow,” Clauson said. “If we tried to get all that done in 10 years, the rate would be astronomical. We’re trying to get this down to an affordable increase.”
Conversely, if the city did nothing in the way of repairs and upgrades, the system would become harder and more costly to maintain, Clauson said.
Utility committee meetings are open to the public. The August meeting has not yet been set. For more information, call (360) 876-4991.

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