Proposed sewer rate increases raise concern

Additional discussions are expected Aug. 10

Several local business owners attended the Washougal City Council meeting last night, to express concerns about how potential sewer rate adjustments could affect their companies.

A sewer rate strategy, previously mentioned by Karyn Johnson and Courtney Black with the FCS Group, would charge commercial customers based on water use. Some commercial customers could see a sewer rate increase of 21.17 percent in 2016, 2017 and 2018, if a phase-in of volume-based rates begins.

Individual customer impacts will vary with the rate structure change.

“There would be some winners and some losers,” Steve Carroll, owner of Watercare Industrial Services, said during a public hearing. “I don’t gamble. That rattled me.”

Washougal Public Works Director Trevor Evers has met with some commercial customers to get feedback about the potential change in rates.

Those ideas were mentioned by Evers during the council meeting.

“I’m pleased to see the ideas passed on to you folks,” Carroll said to council members. “It takes the sting out of a very sharp point.”

Evers said the outreach effort reinforced the assumption that each commercial business has unique circumstances regarding the consumption of water at its facility.

At some businesses, production water is hauled off site via trucks or rail cars, while water at other companies evaporates in cooling towers.

Charlie Bishop, executive vice president of manufacturing at Pendleton Woolen Mills, said he recognizes that the need for a change in the rate structure is inevitable.

He realized during recent communication with Evers that the mill was being charged for water use by 262 employees. That number needs to be updated, since the mill now has 200 workers.

Scott Malfait, owner of the HWF Car Wash, said water is recycled through the wash, and fresh water is used in the final rinse.

“These rates will affect me an awful lot,” he said.

Malfait predicts his bi-monthly sewer rates will increase to $1,048 in 2016, $2,105 in 2017 and $3,452 in 2018.

“This seems outrageous,” he said. “The rates would be way too high. I’m not pleased with this at all.”

Mike Miller, owner of Riverside Laundry, said he is not sure his business could stay open if the new rates are approved.

In a letter to council members, Lance Killian, with Killian Pacific, said restaurants and other food-related businesses may see increases of several hundred percent in their sewer bills.

“Often these types of businesses are the most intensive in terms of capital required and operate on the thinnest margins, but are important for a healthy community,” he said. “The proposed rate increases will have a significant negative impact on these types of businesses — the viability of existing and the ability to attract new offerings to the community.”

Killian Pacific owns Evergreen Marketplace and The Crossing developments in Washougal, and is involved in the redevelopment of the former Hambleton Lumber Co. site, along the waterfront.

The potential new sewer rate strategy would attempt to create equity among commercial class customers in Washougal by 2018.

A sample commercial bill comparison, provided by FCS, showed one customer has a bi-monthly sewer bill of $113 for 430 cubic feet. If the three-year phased in plan is approved by the council, that customer’s bi-monthly bill in 2018 would be $3,452.

A different commercial customer that uses 475 ccf, that is currently paying $7,092 every two months, would see a bi-monthly decrease to $3,812. Both customers would pay $8.01 per 100 cubic feet in 2018.

Evers plans to contact additional businesses to receive feedback.

“This is very overwhelming for customers,” he said.

The city council is expected to receive additional reports and recommendations from city staff regarding the sewer rate issue during the Monday, Aug. 10, meeting at 7 p.m.