Citizens complain about Washougal water rates

City looks into assistance programs

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Several Washougal residents recently complained about utility rate increases that were approved two years ago.

The second year of increases has resulted in a single family residence — within city limits — paying an estimated $174.60 for water, sewer and storm water, every two months this year. That compares to $144.59 every two months in 2011.

During the April 2 Washougal City Council meeting, Cecil Hopkins complained about the rate increases.

“People can’t pay their bills,” he said. “Most of us are low income.”

Darlene Hopkins said she understands that things go up.

“The rates are more than we deserve,” she said. “The rates are hard on low-income and no-income families.”

The city’s 2012 budget includes a water rate increase of 13.5 percent, sewer rate increase of 26.5 percent and storm water rate increase of 14.5 percent.

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

“None of us like the rates,” he said. “The reality is this is the second year of a five-year rate increase. It’s not the answer any of you want to hear.

“It was one of the most difficult votes two years ago,” Guard said. “Previous councils did not increase [rates]. Expenses were going up, and rates stayed the same. It’s a situation the Washougal City Council inherited.”

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.

Councilman Paul Greenlee said he is retired and living on a fixed income.

“We are between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “The utility has to pay for itself.”

Councilman Jon Russell encouraged local residents to contact state and congressional representatives about the rates.

“Mandates are being pushed on us,” he said.

Councilman Dave Shoemaker also encouraged individuals at the meeting to talk to their state and federal representatives.

“Lean on your representatives and tell them what you need,” he said. “We’ll do the same.”

Former councilman Rod Morris remembered there were open houses and public hearings before the rate increases were approved.

“The decisions were made with great angst,” he said.

Councilwoman Joyce Lindsay said she cringes when she sees her water bill.

“Other communities do not have clean water,” she said. “Clean water is important to the health of the community.”

Shoemaker said he appreciated the public comments, but not the tone.

“It’s a little late to comment about the current rates,” he said.

Shoemaker encouraged local residents to continue attending City Council workshops and meetings.

During the March 26 council workshop, Norma Robinson said she objected to the water, storm water and sewer bills.

“This is a struggling economy,” she said. “People are working fewer hours. Seniors are on fixed incomes. There are increased costs for medicines, food and gas.

“Find an affordable solution for the citizens,” Robinson added. “Lower it for a while.”

Guard said the city is looking at the possibility of establishing a fund to assist disabled and low-income residents with their utility bills.

Informational sheets, which have been recently developed to explain the increases and provide money saving tips, are available at the front counter in City Hall, 1701 “C” St. The information will soon also be available on the city’s website