For the third straight month, water rates dominated the discussion during the regular Millwood City Council meeting Tuesday night.
In May, the council voted to increase water rates by 14 percent beginning July 1. The increase raises the base rate to $20 per month for the first 1,000 cubic feet of water consumption. As part of the increase, overages are calculated at 20 cents per 100 cubic feet for 1,000 cubic feet to 2,000 cubic feet per month and 30 cents per 100 cubic feet if customers exceed 2,000 cubic feet per month.
The average Millwood household uses slightly less than 1,000 cubic feet per month during most of the year and about 4,000 cubic feet in the summer.
“This rate increase got me very angry and I’m still very angry,” resident Marsha Peters said. “It seems so abrupt.”
In response, City Attorney Brian Werst said the council has been discussing the potential rate increases since 2010.
Jim Youngman, who asked the council for a lower agricultural rate last month, read a letter he received from Gurney’s Nursery that reflects the fact he had to put his shipment of blueberry bushes on hold due to the water rate increase.
“I’m going to sit it out,” Youngman said about his plans. “I requested a consideration for an agricultural rate, lower than residential. … So far I haven’t heard anything.”
Councilman Glenn Bailey responded by requesting information on the number of properties with acreage and livestock that are going to be affected by the increase.
“I think the city has to be consistent in the application of our ordinances,” Bailey said. “We need that information before we make any adjustments.”
“The new ordinance is consistent,” Mayor Dan Mork said, opposing Bailey’s view. “It’s the same for everybody.”
Peters asked the council to reconsider increasing the base rate water allowance from 1,000 cubic feet to 2,000.
“If you raise the base allotment up to 2,000 it might ease the tension right now,” Peters said. “1,000 square feet, that’s winter usage rates.”
City Treasurer Debbie Matkin reported the city would have to raise the base rate if the allotment was increased to 2,000.
Councilman Richard Shoen said the city has been mandated by the state to make water a separate fund; before the rate increases the city had been subsidizing the water fund with money from the general fund.
Matkin told the audience more increases are expected.
“This is not going to be the last rate increase, it’s just not,” said Matkin, who anticipates another 25 percent increase next year, with subsequent increases over the next couple of years. “We’re going to make the rates balance the budget and set aside money for maintenance to the system.”
Following public comment, the council chose to assess the water rates after a couple months under the new structure. At that time, they would discuss if any adjustments are needed.
Spokane Valley Fire Chief Mike Thompson made a presentation to the council about the $16 million maintenance and operations levy on the Aug. 7 ballot.
“We’re going back to the voters and asking for renewal,” he said. “One thing I want to emphasize tonight is that there’s no increase in taxes.”
Thompson said the demand for service is expected to increase over the next three years due to aging of the general population, economic climate and the high numbers of citizens without health insurance – as those without insurance tend to use emergency services more often.
The levy replaces an ongoing M&O levy, which began in the mid-1960s. The levy goes to the voters every three years for approval.
The revenues of the levy make up 53 percent of the operating revenues for the department. If the levy fails, Thompson anticipates losing six of the 10 fire stations, along with paramedic service. He projects the Washington Survey and Rating Bureau changing the status of the Department from a Class 3 to Class 5 or 6, causing an increase in business and residential insurance rates.
In other news, the council unanimously approved closing Millwood City Park from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., a motion sparked by ongoing vandalism.