Kent Council OKs major hike to residential water bills

Kent Councilwoman Elizabeth Albertson discusses her opposition to a water-rate hike at the April 21 City Council meeting.

Kent Councilwoman Elizabeth Albertson discusses her opposition to a water-rate hike at the April 21 City Council meeting.

Kent city water customers will see rates jump by an average of $9.40 per month on their July bills after a City Council’s 5-2 vote Tuesday to approve a second rate jump in four months.

Customers will see the average monthly bill jump to $28.97 per month in July, from the current rate of $19.57.

Public Works Department officials returned this month to the Council for the bigger increase after potential deals to sell excess water to neighboring jurisdictions fell through. The Cascade Water Alliance, which serves several Eastside cities, and the city of Auburn found other options for purchasing water after previously expressing interest in buying water from Kent.

City staff estimated last year that the city could sell up to $3 million worth of water over the next six years, depending how many contracts were issued. Now the city doesn’t expect to sell any water.

“Sometimes in this job we are forced to make a decision that really has no good answer and this is one of them,” Councilwoman Jamie Danielson said before she voted for the rate hike. “We are all aware that times are tough. But some type of rate increase is necessary. We can raise rates and do a chunk now or pay more in the long run. We cannot afford to have our water fund operate at a loss.”

Danielson, Tim Clark, Debbie Raplee, Ron Harmon and Les Thomas voted to approve the rate hike. Deborah Ranniger and Elizabeth Albertson voted against it.

“This couldn’t come at a worse time,” Ranniger said of all the job layoffs because of the recession. “For me to approve a stiff rate hike two months after we just implemented one and then another one in January 2010, I can’t do it.”

The rate will jump to $37.66 for the average monthly bill in January 2010 and increase each year up to a high of $42.38 in January 2014.

The Council voted last December to increase rates by 79 cents per month for the average customer. That rate hike started in April.

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 city projects include paying for a portion of a filtration facility for the Tacoma supply pipeline that provides part of Kent’s water, building new reservoirs on the East Hill and West Hill and replacing old pipes. The cost of those and a few other projects is estimated at about $175 million over the next 10 years, said Chad Bierin, city project engineer.

About 65,000 of the 86,000 city residents are served by the Kent water system. Soos Creek Water and Water District No. 111 serve portions of the East Hill while the Highline Water District delivers to parts of the West Hill.

“Even with this increase, we are in line with our neighbors in Covington and Water District No. 111,” Thomas said of the monthly rates.

Customers pay an average monthly water rate of $35.24 in Covington, $32.78 in Highline, $30.57 in Water District No. 111 and $24.50 in Soos Creek.

“It’s a lot, but it’s much cheaper to do it now than the cost long term,” Raplee said. “Long term, this will save residents up to $250 per year per rate payer.”

That savings for customers of $250 per year referred to another proposed water rate-increase option that the Public Works Committee did not refer to the Council. That option would have kept the rates low for the first three years, but with much higher rates over the next 20 years to make up the initial shortfall of funds, said Larry Blanchard, city public works director.

Albertson indicated her frustration with city staff over the rate hike as well as other financial issues over the past year.

“I feel like this is another case of here we go again,” Albertson said. “First it was the non-binding letter of intent with Amiga that wasn’t any good. Now we based our water system plan on unsigned contracts that didn’t materialize. We had an unrealistic (city) budget this year that was $4 million in the hole after it was implemented. I cannot pass this $3 million shortfall on to the back of the rate payers at this time.”

City officials initially lined up Amiga, Inc., a Issaquah computer software company, to buy the naming rights to the new events center with a payment of $10 million for 20 years. After that deal fell through, ShoWare signed a contract with the city to pay $3.175 million for 10 years for the naming rights to the arena that opened in January.


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