Combine an aging waste water treatment plant with city growth – and it’s a costly combination; one that’s left the City of North Bend knowing they’d have to raise sewer rates and the General Facilities Charge (GFC) for new homes and new connections. The question was, when and how much?
For months the city has been working with consultants to determine the exact rate and fee hike required to cover the $14-$15 million of needed treatment plant repairs and upgrades over the next five years.
North Bend Director of Public Works Mark Rigos was honest about why the rate hike is needed, saying the city has been a “little behind the eight ball for the last 20 years.” He said customers probably weren’t paying as much as they should have been in order to reinvest and maintain the vital treatment plant.
Rigos explained in the current sewer rate system customers are paying a fairly high monthly “fixed rate” for 10 cubic meters of water – equally about $72/month for those 10cm of water. Once customers exceed that amount, they are charged a pretty cheap “variable rate” of 77 cents for each additional cubic meter of water. He explained this system has been a pretty good deal for higher use customers, who are barely paying more than those using a lot less.
Things are about to change, though, with the proposed new sewer rates – especially for higher use homes.
The new sewer rates that North Bend city staff is recommending the City Council approve will lower the fixed rate for three of the next five years and dramatically raise the variable rate.
If approved, the first of five rate changes would happen on August 1, 2016. What it amounts to over the next five years is the average water/sewer bill for an existing North Bend home that uses the city average of 14 cm of water per month, is an approximate 46% increase – or an increase from $76 to $111/month. A senior and low-income rate will be available, though, for – half of the proposed new fixed rate.
And if your home uses more than the average 14 cm of water – expect your bill to go up even more. If you use 28 cm of water monthly, your bill will go up 150% over five years. But if you use less – say 7 cm per month, your bill only go up about 8% over the same 5-year period. Rigos said they hope the new rates will encourage residents to conserve water.
The city says it’s also making good on its stance that “growth pays for growth.” That means for new homes, the GFC fee will approximately double to just over $10,000. For North Bend homes currently on septic wanting to switch to sewer, that GFC will be $7,700 – up from the current GFC of about $5,000.
Proposed North Bend Residential Sewer Rates
Taking Public Comment on Rate, Fee Increase
If you’d like to comment on the new sewer and GFC rates, there is a chance for public comment before at the June 21st North Bend City Council meeting, which start at 7PM at the Mt. Si Senior Center, 411 Main Ave. Comments can also be submitted in writing to the City Clerk at P.O. Box 896, North Bend, WA, 98045, or by e-mail to: email@example.com prior to 5PM, Monday, June 20,
Time to Reinvest, add Capacity to Treatment Plant
The North Bend Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) site, which sits on the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River along SR 202, is large enough to accommodate about 40 years of city growth. Rigos said they will make needed repairs/upgrades and eventually add capacity to the facility – and are making sure revenue brought in from the sewer rate increase pays for projects that reinvest in the current facility, while the increased GFC fee helps fund needed capacity.
According to the summary of the proposed sewer rate agenda bill, in 2013 numerous problems were identified at the aging WWTP and city council was presented with 29 proposed improvements. Three of those were done via emergency contracts over the past two years, but other identified problems have continued to degrade.
The city feels the sewer and GFC increases will provide the revenue needed to upgrade plant, which would include additional and better clarifiers, adding an oxidation ditch, adding a shade structure to help cool the 2 million gallon treatment pool that faces south to help meet environmental requirements – as well as other projects and needed repairs.
What about the Smell?
And yes, the million dollar questions was posed to Rigos – will it help with the smell? He said they are alway exploring options to reduce the smell often noticed on ‘load day,’ which usually happens on Thursday mornings.
On load day a conveyor system loads waste into a box car, with a large plastic tarp placed on top to reduce the smell – and then it’s hauled out. In the future Rigos said they’re considering an idea that would use something similar to a circus tent with an air scrubber on top to try to contain the box car even more as it is loaded.
As to that smelly Thursday morning last month when the odor almost overtook the downtown area? Rigos said that’s not acceptable and they’re always working to improve. What happened that day was a combination of events, including the load being larger than usual, extreme heat and an easterly wind that took the smell right into town.