August 7, 2011 in City

City officials want to raise water rates

Council to weigh plan Monday
By The Spokesman-Review

Most of Spokane’s water rates would increase by nearly 8 percent and the base rate paid by each customer would go up nearly 20 percent under a plan the City Council will consider Monday.

City administrators say the big increase is needed largely because officials have declined to raise rates in previous years, including last year.

“When you get a 0 percent rate increase, it starts forcing you to burn through your reserves,” Utilities Director Dave Mandyke said.

The recommendation for a rate boost comes as administrators are proposing a 13.5 percent rise in sewer rates, largely to cover the cost of required changes to improve sewage treatment and keep raw sewage out of the Spokane River.

The City Council revamped the water rate structure starting this year so that people who use about 32,500 gallons of water in a month pay more, but that plan was crafted with the goal of not changing the total amount collected. Officials estimate 60 percent of customers will pay less for their water this year.

City Council President Joe Shogan said the water proposal for 2012 is in flux, but he believes an increase near the level proposed is needed.

“We have water mains breaking all the time,” Shogan said, noting a major break in May on North Perry Street that flooded the street and created a giant hole in the pavement. “We have some very, very old water infrastructure.”

Shogan also noted that the street replacement program approved by voters in 2004 added financial pressure on the water department because the city has opted to replace water mains in those streets while the roads are torn up.

The current plan would increase all residential rates 7.65 percent. The base rate paid by all residential customers would increase by that percentage plus $1, which amounts to nearly a 20 percent increase.

Mandyke said the goal is to give the department financial stability. When much of the department’s revenue depends on how much customers consume, it’s hard to know exactly how much the city will earn. In years when rainfall is above normal, for instance, water use falls along with water bills.

“Any increase in the base gives us predictability,” Mandyke said.

City Councilman Richard Rush said he’s sympathetic to Mandyke’s concerns, but with about half of the city’s water revenue coming from base rates, the rate structure has enough predictability as it is. He said increasing the base rate adds too much burden on the poor. He prefers that all new revenue be paid through water consumption rates, which would shift some of the burden to those who use a lot of water.

City Councilman Jon Snyder said many of the projects needed to maintain the city’s water system are to deal with peak summer demand.

The current rate proposal “impacts low-income, low-volume users too much,” Snyder said.

Water rates will be debated at the council meeting that starts at 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

Base rateCurrentProposed
Consumption rates

(Charge per 100 cubic feet*)

First 400 cubic feet20 cents22 cents
More than 400 cf to 1,000 cf45 cents48 cents
More than 1,000 cf to 1,800 cf85 cents92 cents
More than 1,800 cf to 4,000 cf$1.35$1.45
More than 4,000 cf$1.85$1.99

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