Washougal residents pack City Hall to complain about utility rates

Councilman Brent Boger will propose utility tax cut in January

Councilman Brent Boger will propose utility tax cut in January

Water, sewer and stormwater rate increases were on the minds of more than 70 people last night in Washougal.

A standing-room-only crowd attended a three-hour community meeting in the council chambers at City Hall. The crowd spilled over into the lobby.

It was not a City Council meeting or workshop, but six council members were present. Councilwoman Caryn Plinski was not available to attend.

Next year, the total bi-monthly water, sewer and stormwater bill for a single family residence, within the city limits of Washougal, is expected to increase to $211.13. That compares to $174.60, for every two months, this year.

Some individuals at last night’s meeting said they did not know about the increases until they received their bills.

Dan Disrud talked about experiencing “sticker shock” regarding the utility rate increases.

“You were thrown under the bus,” he said to the council. “You have a thankless job. I hope there is an end in sight [of the increases.]”

John Wagoner, president of Concerned Citizens in Action, said he attends most City Council meetings.

“They want your input,” he said. “You are welcome and encouraged to speak.”

Harvey Olson agreed.

“The City Council has spent hours and hours on the water rate problem,” he said.

Joseph Drew said he was concerned the utility rates might convince prospective industries to not locate in Washougal. Another resident said the increases could cause people to move out of the city.

The five-year rate increases were approved by City Council in 2010, after there were discussions at meetings. The increases are required to pay for water and sewer infrastructure improvements, in order to meet state and federal regulations.

The utility rate increases are paying for the “E” Street waterline replacement, reservoirs for zones 3 and 4, “W” Street waterline construction and lift station retrofits, as well as various street culverts, drywell improvements and a decant facility for debris collected from street cleaning.

The city’s 2013 budget includes the creation of a $95,000 fund to help low income Washougal residents pay their utility bills. There are currently reduced rates for residents 60 and older.

After the community meeting, councilman Brent Boger said he plans to propose a utility tax cut to provide rate payers some relief.

“Embedded in the rates for water and sewer are taxes,” he said. “The water tax rate is 20.4 percent, and the sewer rate is 10 percent.”

Boger’s proposal will involve a tax cut “roughly equivalent” to a $500,000 excess reserve fund that was established in the 2013 budget. The fund could instead be used for what Mayor Sean Guard had proposed — to acquire dilapidated downtown properties and create parks and/or parking lots.

Boger thinks the base rate for water use is too high, explaining that many people do not use 10 units of water.

“I had a leak at my house in October, and my use doubled from six units to 12,” he said. “Yet my bill only increased three percent.”

Boger also wonders why the rate increases were “front-loaded.”

“This happened before I was on council, but a lot of financings aren’t that way,” he said. “It’s like paying off half your house in the first five years.”

The council’s next regular meeting will be held Monday, Jan. 7, at 6 p.m.

For more information about utility rates, call City Hall at 835-8501. To sign up to receive City Council agendas by email, visit www.cityofwashougal.us.