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City working to stop sewer rate increase

As the City Council considers the 2012 budget this month, some Winslow ratepayers may notice one item of concern — a 19.5 percent increase on sewer rates.

The increase to the sewer rates has been recommended for three years, but may be unsettling to ratepayers who are currently engaged in controversial local debate over the water utility.

Increasing the sewer rates came as the result of a six-month review by the city’s Utility Advisory Committee in 2009. The rate increase was then decided by the council to go into effect in January 2012.

“The good news is that since then we have borrowed less and we have operated more efficiently,” said city Councilor Barry Peters. “The forecast for next year is that we can operate the sewer utility with a balanced budget without increasing the rates.”

The city’s administration has been analyzing the sewer budget and has concluded that it could remain in balance in the absence of the rate increase.

On Tuesday, the UAC began discussing the issue and is working on a recommendation to the council for eliminating the sewer rate increase. Should the committee be able to craft a recommendation in time, the council can then amend the law to remove the sewer rate increase by next month, according to Peters.

“It really is needed somewhat urgently because we are already into adopting our overall city budget,” Peters said. “We’ve already had our first reading, and we are already on the road for our second reading.”

Water and sewer charges come on a combined bill for ratepayers — the same bill that is the center of the current water utility debate, and is expected to reflect a reduction of 45 percent.

Last week, the Utility Advisory Committee gave the City Council its official recommendation, which said that the city should keep the water utility and not divest it. The recommendation came with a number of requirements, among which was a 45 percent reduction in rates for ratepayers in order to remain competitive with other utilities in the area such as the Kitsap Public Utility District KPUD).

“Because the rate structure differences between KPUD and COBI, if the utility were transferred, our main bill for water would drop from around $3,500 to less than $1,000,” said Kevin DeLorey, who is the facility manager for the Harbor Square Condominiums on Winslow Way East. “So for us, it’s a lot more than the 34 and 45 percent that have been knocked around by the politicians.”

DeLorey said that when he took the job in 2007 he was immediately put to work on finding ways to save water. Water and sewer are the largest expenses for residents, and, as DeLorey discovered, there wasn’t much they could do. The majority of the water bill was fixed and their water usage is already less than half the national average for relative multi-unit developments, according to DeLorey.

After attending one of the UAC meetings that lead to the recommendation, DeLorey was inspired to start his own website dedicated to the matter. COBI Water Utility Analysis presents his own findings based on his hands-on experience.

“The UAC majority recommendation to the council was not a compromise, as its wording makes it appear,” DeLorey said. “I don’t believe that anyone involved thinks that what is going on is going to be able to stand the light of day for long.”

Among the debate over the city’s water utility is the option for KPUD to take over its operation. KPUD is only offering to take over the water utility while the city would still operate the sewer utility that uses a waste water treatment plant on the island. Keeping the sewer after divesting the water utility would make running sewer more expensive, Peters said.

“The last time a water utility was transferred to KPUD was 2003 — The North Bainbridge Water Company,” Peters said. “The last time they got a utility they paid real money…that’s not a very smart business decision to give it away (for free).”

DeLorey’s website can be found at https://sites.google.com/site/cobiutility/home.

 

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