Proposed utility rate increases draw minimal public comment

New rates would be implemented in January

Following a public hearing during which just one person testified, the Camas City Council directed its legal counsel to prepare an ordinance that if approved on Dec. 2 would implement a series of utility rate increases starting in January 2014.

Ken Hadley, a Washougal resident who owns property in Camas, said the increases are justified.

“I, along with other taxpayers, don’t like to pay additional fees,” he told the City Council Monday night. “But at the same time I recognize that we need to maintain our facilities and have adequate things for our needs, so I would recommend that council adopt these rates tonight.”

Proposed increases for the next five years beginning in 2014 are 5 percent each year for water rates; 3 percent each year for sewer rates; 4.75 percent each year for storm water rates; and for sanitation rates 2.75 percent increases in 2014 and 2015, and 2.5 percent increases for the following three years.According to the study, a bi-monthly residential bill with all four rate increases combined would bump up a typical customers’ payment from the current $192.77 to $229.70 by 2018.

Councilman Don Chaney said the proposed rates reflect the costs associated with providing utility services.

“We always regret asking the public to provide more money for the services that we provide but, like Ken said, sometimes we are just up against basic costs,” Chaney said. “I will say that I have looked at this, I trust staff, and I’ve seen the rigor that staff has used to develop the capital plans that associate with developing these rates, as well as recognizing the increasing costs for the services and products we use to provide those services.”The increases are intended to help fund future capital improvement obligations, and investment in maintaining the current system.

Other items highlighted that would be supported by the future additional funding include new utility manager and sanitation employee positions, as well as a new sanitation truck in 2018.

In addition, some funding for improvements that will need to be made in the city’s north urban growth area were factored into the rate increases. However, the study results assumed that two-thirds of the cost associated with this potential expense would be paid using outside funding.

Combined rate comparisons with other local cities put the Camas 2014 proposed rates in the middle-of-the-pack. Combined bi-monthly 2014 rates for other Clark County cities are $287.48 in Washougal; $224.86 in Ridgefield; $173.20 in Battle Ground and $165.80 in Vancouver.

The City Council opted out of including in the ordinance a monthly sanitation rate, in addition to the already existing weekly and every-other-week options. Instead, city staff suggested discussing the issue more thoroughly at the January planning conference.

Concerned about how the jump in rates might impact low-income residents, Councilman Steve Hogan said he supports that idea.

“I do have a concern that low income and fixed income people might find this burdensome, so I do like staff’s recommendation that we take this up as a topic to discuss further at the annual planning meeting,” he said, “and add that extra potential other rate option into that discussion at that time as well.”

Higgins commented that in the meantime, there are some resources in the community that are available for people who are struggling.

“When we become aware of those things we try to connect them with resources, and there are some available publicly, privately, charitably and elsewhere,” he said. “We have some mechanisms where we can steer people until we get to the point that we have something a little more formal in our policies, and I think that’s a good thing.”