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Washington Voices

Meeting day to change

Since 1928, the Millwood City Council has held a regular meeting the first Monday of the month. On May 8, that will change.

During Monday’s meeting, council voted unanimously to move the regular meeting from the first Monday to the second Tuesday of each month.

“This is a very historic moment,” Mayor Dan Mork said.

Mork said the change gives city staff additional time to collect information, such as budget numbers.

The council also unanimously approved the revised six-year water system budget presented by Ben Varela of Varela & Associates. The plan was revised to demonstrate to the Department of Health a balanced budget that doesn’t use city reserves. Varela informed the council the plan was approved by the department on Feb. 28.

Varela’s update proposes a 22 percent water-rate increase this spring, followed by steady increases over the next five years.

Councilman Kevin Freeman asked if the city would be held to the rates outlined in the plan’s revised budget, noting the city hasn’t determined a future rate structure.

“It’s planning level,” Varela said. He pointed out that the city had spent a significant amount of time in the red – losing money – over the past couple of years. “Basically all you’re doing is saying to get it balanced, here’s what we have to do.”

City planner Tom Richardson said the Health Department would not approve the original plan that showed the city losing money the first year, with gains to follow. The department told the city to demonstrate it will not lose any ground financially.

Varela’s water plan also includes the cost of proposed capital improvement projects, such as Old Park Well improvements and replacing 5,000 feet of old, leaky cast iron water mains. Both projects are estimated to cost more than $1.5 million.

To pay for those projects, Varela applied for two Drinking Water State Revolving Fund low-interest loans. The loans accrue 1.5 percent for 20 years.

If accepted, both loans would begin in 2014.

Following Varela’s presentation, the council heard a city proposal to increase water rates this spring, generating $35,000.

The proposal includes increasing the base rate 16 percent, from $17.35 to $20.18, reducing the amount of water in the base charge from 4,000 cubic feet to 2,000, and increasing the commercial overage charge from 14 cents per 100 cubic feet to 20 cents.

Freeman proposed looking at a tiered rate structure and researching how much water an average resident uses.

Freeman further asked to have a working session to discuss the water rates.

Treasurer Debbie Matkin proposed having the finance committee meet to discuss the rates at a time to be determined.

The council further approved an ordinance issuing an easement for Avista Utilities to install an underground electrical distribution line in the City Park.

In other city news, council approved a six-month extension of the moratorium on establishment and licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries and collective gardens.

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