Port Angeles City Council votes to raise utility rates up to 6.4% effective Jan. 1

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

City Council also raises property tax by 1%. See story on home page.
PORT ANGELES — The total utility bill of an average city resident will go up between $14 and $15 per month starting Jan. 1 now that City Council members have approved a battery of rate changes.

Total average monthly bills are slated to rise either 6.3 percent or 6.4 percent, depending on frequency of curb-side garbage service.

The council approved new rates with a 5-2 vote at its Tuesday night meeting.

Mayor Cherie Kidd and Deputy Mayor Brad Collins were opposed.

Kidd said she did not want to increase the financial burden on the city's low-income residents and disagreed with several individual increases, including a 19 percent increase in the per-ton cost of self-hauling garbage to the city's transfer station.

That translates to $170.11 per ton in 2014, up $28.16 from the 2013 rate of $141.95 per ton.

“I don't want us as a city to put ourselves out of business,” Kidd said.

“I want self-haulers to come to Port Angeles.”

Craig Fulton, the city's public works and utilities director, said the new rates are meant to take a “middle-of-the-road” approach between funding improvements to the city's utility infrastructure and lessening the impact on ratepayers.

Councilwoman Sissi Bruch said she understands that a number of city residents are struggling with utility bills, though delays in maintaining the city's infrastructure cannot continue.

“We're trying to at least cover the cost of what it's costing us to run these utilities,” Bruch said.

“It's something that hasn't happened well in the past.”

Rise in rates

An average city utility customer uses per month roughly 1,300 kilowatt hours of electricity, about 450 cubic feet of water, more than 430 cubic feet of wastewater and receives curb-side yard-waste pickup.

Those signed up for weekly garbage pickup will pay about $188 more per year, while those getting every-other-week service will pay about $177 more per year.

On average, the total monthly utility bill for residential customers getting weekly garbage service would be about $261.88 under the new rates, a $15.69, or 6.4 percent, increase from this year.

The monthly increase would be about $14.77 for average customers getting every-other-week garbage service, a rise of 6.3 percent, to $250.06 per month.

Collins said he fears continually raising rates will lead to few residents being able to afford to live in the city.

“My feeling is we've reached a point where too many of our citizens cannot afford utility rates,” Collins said.

Environmental projects

Kidd also railed against ratepayers having to bear the burden of paying for multiple environmental public works projects the state Department of Ecology is requiring the city to complete.

Although not increasing for next year, the city has instituted a $20.10 monthly surcharge to pay for the city's ongoing combined sewer overflow project and a $4.50-per-month fee to fund the ongoing study of contaminants in Port Angeles Harbor.

Kidd suggested using some reserve funds in each of the city's utilities to allow these surcharges to be deleted as soon as possible.

“I would like to look at using some reserves for some relief at this extraordinary time until we can get some additional [Ecology] grant funding,” Kidd said.

Breakdown of rates

Under the approved increases, electricity rates, on average, will rise about $7 per month, roughly 6.5 percent.

Wastewater rates for those using more than 430 cubic feet of water per month will increase by about $4.50, or about 6.7 percent, and by about 6.5 percent for residents using fewer than 430 cubic feet of water per month.

Weekly garbage pickup service will increase $2.09 per month from $30.65 to $32.74, an increase of about 6.8 percent.

Every-other-week garbage service could go from $19.75 to $20.35 per month, an increase of about 3 percent.

Residential utility customers using about 450 cubic feet of water per month will see a $1.99 increase, about a 5.5 percent increase.

The approved commercial utility rate percentage increases are roughly the same except in the wastewater utility.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 06. 2013 6:18PM
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