City Council remains undecided when to raise fees

Kent city staff has recommended the Council approve an increase in storm-drainage rates next year to help pay for Green River levee repairs

Kent city staff has recommended the Council approve an increase in storm-drainage rates next year to help pay for Green River levee repairs

The Kent City Council remained undecided at a Nov. 4 workshop on when to increase water rates and storm-drainage rates for residents as part of the proposed 2009 city budget. The Council met for a budget workshop at City Hall before the regular council meeting.

At the direction of the Council, city staff proposed holding off on the water and drainage-rate increases until next June, and not increasing city permit fees at all. The proposal met with mixed responses from Council members.

Delaying utility-rate jumps didn’t sit well with Councilwoman Elizabeth Albertson.

“It’s a small hit to the residents but a huge hit to the city,” Albertson said of a utility-rate increase next June rather than next January. “We need the revenue. We can’t afford to lose money.”

City staff will present the proposed 2009 budget to the city Operations Committee at 4 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. No permit fee increases will be included in the budget.

Staff also will present a proposed ordinance on utility-rate increases, said John Hodgson, city chief administrative officer. A date in 2009 of when to increase utility rates has yet to be decided.

The Operations Committee, which includes Council members Tim Clark, Debbie Raplee and Les Thomas, will consider Tuesday whether to recommend adoption of the 2009 budget by the Council. The committee also will discuss, and possibly vote, on the proposed utility-rate increases.

The Council will consider formal adoption of the budget on Dec. 9. Residents will be able to testify on the budget on Dec. 9.

Water rates would jump about $14 per year per customer if the increases started in January. The storm-drainage rates would jump about $33 per year for each customer.

City staff recommended the water-rate increase to help the city pay for the operation, maintenance, replacement and expansion of the water system as required by federal and state regulations for fire codes and health standards. The expansion of the system also would enable the city to potentially sell excess water to neighboring jurisdictions.

“It’s devastating if we don’t do it,” Clark said at the workshop. “There will be all kinds of consequences if we fail to conform to federal and state law.”

Clark also said a delay in the water-rate increase would hurt the city’s ability to sell more water.

“If we don’t do it, we can’t sell water and we’ll cut our own throat,” Clark said.

City staff said storm-drainage rates need to go up to help pay for capital improvement projects to the water system. The projects are designed to meet the requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit issued by the state Department of Ecology. The drainage-rate increase also will help pay for $25 million of repairs to Green River levees in the city to help control flooding.

Other Council members are concerned about the impact of rate increases on residents during a struggling economy.

“If a person is losing their job, two or three bucks is a lot of money,” Raplee said.

Councilwoman Deborah Ranniger noted that the utility-rate increase would start at some point next year, whether or not it started in January.

“It’s not a question of not to do it, but when to do it,” Ranniger said.

City staff had proposed a 15-percent jump in permit fees next year for commercial and housing developers.

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