For homeowners, big rate increases sometimes aren’t easy to stomach – something that appears to be crystal clear the North Bend City Council.
Faced with a possible June 21st vote to significantly raise sewer rates to improve an aging Waste Water Treatment Plant, the council instead asked city staff to hold more public meetings to give residents another chance to learn more and voice their opinions.
Via press release, the City of North Bend said for over four years it has been discussing needed improvements for its 1950’s deteriorating Sewer Plant. In 2014 and 2015, the City Council invested approximately $1.5 million dollars on capital improvements at the sewer plant, which resulted in improved efficiency and functionality, but didn’t resolve many safety, redundancy and permit compliance issues required for the plant to serve existing ratepayers and meet the demands of future growth.
The City Council subsequently hired a consultant to prepare a Capital Facilities Study to identify the best future approach for the delivery of sewer service to residents. The consultant looked at three options including remodeling the existing plant; building a new plant in a new location; or contracting with a regional provider.
All of options involved significant rate increases. The city stated public meetings were advertised and held regarding the three options in March and April 2016, where both the city council and citizens overwhelmingly preferring the least expensive option: remodeling the existing plant. Although some council members felt the regional option might have a better long term benefit for the city, the $63 million price tag was deemed prohibitive.
The city elected to address the $27 million remodeling option with phased-in rate increases in an effort to spread the cost fairly over time. This 5-year, phased-in rate increase would cover $15.6 million of needed improvements for the aging sewer plant.
The proposed rate increase, which was discussed in public meetings over the past two months, will be discussed further on July 7th and 19th.
Sewer Utility Background Info
The city explained that a sewer utility is an enterprise fund – meaning under state law it must be self-supporting. That means the City’s general fund cannot subsidize it. A sewer utility is funded from ratepayers’ monthly service charges and developer connection charges called General Facility Charges (GFC).
The North Bend City Council has consistently directed that “growth pay for growth” and this direction was provided to the City’s consultant in setting the new sewer rates.
Accordingly, rates must pay for all costs and expenses of sewer operation. Currently, there are 1,250 ratepayers (including both residential and commercial) participating in the Utility, but 2,348 households within the City of North Bend.
New Proposed Sewer Rates, GFC
The proposed rate increase for a new house (GFC) will result in increasing the new connection fee from $5,852 to $10,222. If the the proposed new home is within the assessment area of ULID#6, the GFC will be $7,699, because the property has already paid for part of the collection system.
The proposed rate increase for an existing sewer ratepayer will partially depend on water usage, as the City Council asked the consultant to have rates reward water conservation. Average usege rates are proposed to go up significantly in order to pay for the $15.6 million in improvements, increasing incrementally: 12.7% in 2016 and 2017; then 8.25% in 2018 and 2019 and another 8% in 2020.
More Public Meetings about Sewer Rates, Plant Tour offered
According to the city, the City Council Finance and Administration Committee conducted public meetings on May 3rd, and June 7th, 2016 to discuss the sewer rate increase. The Transportation and Public Works Council Committee also conducted public meetings on May 11, and June 8, 2016 about increasing sewer rates. Another public hearing was opened at a regular City Council meeting on June 21st, 2016 and will be until July 19, 2016 in order to provide additional opportunity for public comment.
Additionally, a Town Hall Public Meeting has been added for Thursday, July 7th at 7PM at the Mt Si Senior Center, 411 Main Avenue South, to solicit additional input and comments from the public regarding increasing sewer rates and connection fees. Ratepayers will have the opportunity to learn more about the methods used to calculate the rate increases, ask questions, and provide comments or concerns.
For interested residents, there will also be an optional tour of the City’s Sewer Plant at 6PM. To see the Plant and learn more about all the changes, residents can arrive at the plant gate at 400 Bendigo Blvd N., North Bend, shortly before 6:00 PM. The tour will take approximately 30 to 45 minutes. There are limited spots for the tour so if you are interested in attending the tour please RSVP to City Engineer Don DeBerg: (425) 888-7652 or email@example.com.
PROPOSED SEWER RATE INCREASE