Spokane County sewer customers face a hefty $2-per-month rate hike in 1997 if county commissioners adopt the increase later this month.
Commissioners decided Tuesday to wait until Dec. 17 before voting on the proposed 11 percent hike, which boosts the monthly rate from $17.50 to $19.50.
“I’d like to delay this decision to be sure I’ve got a better feeling for other options,” said Commissioner John Roskelley.
He and Commissioner Steve Hasson said they want to give the public another chance to comment on the rate change - intended to start building a reserve fund for needed sewage treatment plant improvements.
If approved, the hike would take effect in February, applied to 12,500 business and residential customers in unincorporated areas of the county.
Spokane city sewer customers learned this week they face a modest 30 cents-per-month increase next year. That will boost city sewer rates to $15.11.
County residents shouldn’t feel glum. Utilities Director Bruce Rawls said the city’s sewer rates will have to jump before long, for the same reason.
The city-owned treatment plant is aging and needs about $30 million in improvements. In addition, state water standards have become tougher, requiring additional aeration basins, Rawls said.
The county needs to kick in about $8.5 million toward the plant upgrade, commissioners learned.
“Once again, the county is moving ahead on a problem before the city,” Hasson quipped.
One rate plan being considered by commissioners offers a “ramped” approach to raising the $8.5 million. After February’s $2 hike, the rate would increase by a dollar in 1998. There would be another $1 increase in 1999.
Over 20 years, that money would pay off the bonds the county would buy to kick in its share of plant improvements, Rawls told commissioners.
Roskelley and Hasson wondered if increasing sewer rates is the only way to raise the needed money.
“I’d like to look at other ways of spreading that cost across the county, even to people who don’t use the sewer,” Roskelley said.
The treatment plant handles about 33 million gallons of sewage each day. The county has an agreement that allows it to send the plant a daily flow of 10 million gallons.
The 1985 agreement with the city obligates the county to pay a portion of what it costs to modernize and expand the plant.
“It’s important people out there realize that’s the way it is,” Commission Chairman Phil Harris said.