December 21, 2010 in City

Garbage, sewer bills to rise in ’11 in Spokane

City Council approves higher rates
By The Spokesman-Review
Budget approved

Later in the evening, the council finalized the city’s 2011 budget on a 5-2 vote. The decision included a reversal of the council’s vote earlier this month that shifted $1.5 million from street maintenance. Had that vote been sustained, officials had said more layoffs may have been needed. Even with money restored, the department will lose 14 jobs.

Homeowners connected to Spokane’s sewer system will pay 17 percent more for service in 2011.

The Spokane City Council voted 4-3 on Monday in favor of the new rate.

The change means homeowners will pay $43.73 a month for wastewater service, up from $37.43.

The big increase had been expected for more than a year, since a 2009 study recommended double-digit rate hikes for several years to raise enough money to meet stringent water quality rules that require major sewer system improvements.

Even so, Mayor Mary Verner had recommended a slightly smaller 15 percent increase.

Council members who supported the change said they wanted a higher rate to generate extra utility taxes, which support the police, fire, park and other city departments, because earlier in the evening the council decided against raising water prices.

The proposed city budget had included an increased water rate and the extra utility taxes that would have generated.

The city collects a 20 percent tax on utility bills, among the highest rates in the state and the second largest source of the city’s tax revenue, just below property taxes.

The council voted 5-2 to keep water rates steady. Verner had asked the council to approve a 3.75 percent increase. But most council members said they didn’t want to add an increase on top of a rate structure change that the council approved earlier this year. That earlier change means people who use more water will pay more; people who use less will pay less.

The council also voted 5-2 to raise garbage rates by 1.5 percent.

Last week, Verner had criticized the council’s decision to change proposed rates. But the 5-2 vote on water means she won’t be able to veto the new water rate. The 4-3 vote on wastewater, however, is close enough that she will have the power to veto it.

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