The Spokane City Council on Monday unanimously rejected a nearly 8 percent increase in water rates, but that doesn’t mean bills won’t rise next year.
A majority of the council appeared to favor raising revenue by increasing fees but disagree on how best to do that. A rejection of Council President Joe Shogan’s request to delay a decision for a week to examine competing proposals doomed the water rate plan for the night.
“It means we go back to the drawing board and try to bring back something that will give us four votes,” said Utilities Director Dave Mandyke, referring to the minimum number of council members who must agree in order for proposals to pass.
City officials say water rates need to be increased to pay for major improvements to infrastructure, some of which is well over a century old. They note that water rates were unchanged five out of the last eight years and that the water department’s reserve fund has dropped from around $40 million to about $9 million.
“We have to make our water rates affordable for our consumers and restore the financial stability of the water department,” said Mayor Mary Verner, in an interview before the debate.
Administrators proposed raising all residential rates 7.65 percent. The base rate paid by all residential customers would have increased by that percentage plus $1, which amounts to nearly a 20 percent increase. The plan would have increased the average water bill about $2.50 a month.
Supporters of the plan noted that the council had debated water rates and the plan since June and that administrators already scrubbed some $30 million of projects from the city’s six-year water plan and are keeping a dozen positions vacant.
“We’ve tried to pare this thing down as much as we can. Eventually we’re going to get more North Perrys,” said Councilman Jon Snyder, referring to a major water main break this year on North Perry Street. “The water will not deliver itself.”
Councilman Richard Rush argued that the administration’s rate increase plan would hurt low-income water customers and proposed a structure that would eliminate the extra $1 increase to the base rate and simply increase rates 10 percent. That would shift the increase to users of more water.
Shogan said that a vote on Rush’s plan should wait a week so the public could comment on it, but the council declined his request. Shogan, Steve Corker, Nancy McLaughlin and Bob Apple voted against Rush’s rate proposal, setting up the unanimous defeat of the administration’s rate plan.