Washougal budget includes tax, utility hikes

Public hearing set for Nov. 5

Washougal residents may soon pay more for city utilities, including water, sewer and stormwater.

City councilors are considering a recommendation to increase utility rates over the next five years, and will hold a public hearing on the issue on Monday, Nov. 5.

The recommendations came from Washougal city administrators and employees of the FCS Group, a Redmond, Washington based utility rate and fee consulting company that oversaw Washougal’s recent citywide utility rate study.

The proposed utility rate hike, currently included in Washougal Mayor Molly Coston’s proposed $45.2 million 2019 budget, includes a 3-percent rate increase for water, 9.5-percent increase for sewer and 4.5-percent increase for stormwater.

Washougal residents already pay a bit more than utility users in other Clark County cities.

In Washougal, the average bi-monthly water, sewer and stormwater bill for a single-family residential customer is $221. In Camas, it is $173. In Battle Ground, it is $169. In Vancouver, the average bill is $176. And, in Ridgefield, it is $211.

Some Washington cities have higher costs than Washougal, including Arlington, where the bi-monthly water, stormwater, sewer utility bill for a single-family residential customer is $242, Cashmere where it is $265 and Tenino, where the cost is $310.

Of course, if Washougal utility customers use more or less water, their bill can vary.

Washougal City Councilwoman Julie Russell said during the Oct. 22 council workshop the water/sewer/stormwater bi-monthly bill for her and her husband is more than $500, in part, because they water their lawn.

“One woman called me and said she is washing her dishes and using that water to flush her toilet, because she is worried about the (water) bill,” Russell said.

During council discussion, Councilwoman Michelle Wagner said Washougal may have to do what California does and give $1,000 to people who “xeriscape.” That involves landscaping with slow-growing, drought tolerant plants to conserve water.

Councilman Ernie Suggs said the city of Las Vegas pays residents to take out their lawns.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Southern Nevada Water Authority will pay residents and business owners $3 for every square foot of grass they rip out and replace with desert landscaping.

Washougal Councilman Brent Boger suggested showering at a gym, to reduce water usage at home.

Washougal City Administrator David Scott called the proposed water and stormwater rate increases “modest,” and said both are needed to ensure the ongoing operation and maintenance of the city’s water and stormwater systems.

He added that department heads have already tried to keep the rate increases to a minimum by combining the water and sewer manager positions and rescheduling planned capital projects. The city is deferring construction of a water reservoir, booster station and piping improvements in the Lookout Ridge/Granite Highlands area.

Scott said Washougal must increase its sewer rates to ensure the ongoing operation and maintenance of the wastewater system, and to pay for state-required treatment plant expansion costs.

Washougal’s 2019 proposed budget also includes the implementation of a $20 annual vehicle license tab fee, to go toward the city’s pavement management program, and a new 6-percent cable utility tax, to be used for short-term debt for capital projects or to help pay for city facilities, parks, streets and sidewalks.

Budget includes cost of living adjustments, capital improvement projects

The 2019 Washougal proposed budget includes cost of living adjustments (COLA) for certain city staff members, including a a 2.5-percent increase for police officers.

As of press deadlines, there is no final determination regarding cost of living adjustments for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 307W members, including code enforcement and animal control officers. The city and union are bargaining a new contract.

There is also no final determination for COLA in 2019 for non-represented employees, including all managers, department heads, the city administrator and the assistant to the mayor and the city administrator.

The proposed 2019 budget includes several capital improvement projects, including siding replacement at Washougal City Hall, a remodel of Elizabeth Park, improvements in Lower and Upper Hathaway parks and the addition of overhead lighting in the city’s pedestrian tunnel.

Other budget items include a new baseball field, restrooms and lighting at the George J. Schmid Memorial Fields, a project that could receive $350,000 from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office Youth Athletic Facilities grant program, and for which the city has applied for $500,000 grant from the Washington Wildlife Recreation Program. The total project cost is $2.26 million.

Scott said the city would need to come up with $1.4 million if it receives the $850,000 in grants.

“We will pursue this as part of the state capital budget, look to local fundraising and other possible opportunities, including maybe naming rights,” he said.

Construction of a waterfront trail, which would extend the trail from Washougal Waterfront Park to Steamboat Landing Park, is listed in the proposed budget for $1.75 million. It includes $1 million from the state and $750,000 in transportation and park impact fees.

Public hearings on the 2019 city of Washougal proposed budget, which also includes a 1-percent property tax increase, will be held during the regular Washougal City Council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m., Monday, Nov. 5, at Washougal City Hall, 1701 “C” St., Washougal.

City councilors are expected to consider and potentially adopt the 2019 budget during their regular meeting on Nov. 19.