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Snohomish utility rates going up, but not sewer bill

SNOHOMISH - Residents can expect steady water and storm water rate increases during the next three years, but there’s some relief as the sewage rate will stay flat.
The City Council last week approved increasing water rates by 5 percent and storm water rates by 7.1 percent through 2016. There is no increase for the wastewater rate through 2016.
The average family’s bimonthly water bill will be $78.33 in 2014, $82.25 in 2015 and $86.36 in 2016. The average storm water bill will be $26.10 in 2014, $26.88 in 2015 and $28.79 in 2016.
The sewer bill will remain $187.18 the next three years after continuous 11 percent rate hikes the past five years largely to fund a solution for the city’s once-troublesome sewage plant.
The sewer rate is not going up because the city secured an agreement with the state Department of Ecology earlier this year to let the city fix the sewage plant versus building a $44 million sewer trunk line to Everett’s wastewater plant.
The pipeline has been shelved thanks to the Ecology agreement, but newly released internal city figures showed financing the pipeline would have meant a 23 percent sewer rate hike for 2014 without the agreement.
The other rate increases come as the city is challenged by increased maintenance and operation costs for storm water lines.
“This is the area with the highest degree of regulatory changes to the current state level,” city manager Larry Bauman said last week on storm water rates. “Our operations and maintenance expenses are growing in this area.”
The public comment period had mixed responses, but one person raised the question about the senior utility rate discount and who qualifies.
Apartment owner and council gadfly Morgan Davis said not all seniors can actually get the discount.
“Let me tell you something, a lot of the seniors live in apartments and they are absolutely ineligible, no matter how poor they are,” Davis said. “Because, you have to own a home, and have a meter, to get a discount. Most seniors don’t own a home.”
Davis sought to point out the fact to council that “most seniors” in Snohomish reside in subsidized housing or apartments.
City Councilman Paul Kaftanski suggested discount rates for seniors could be similar to the income-based programs the school district applies for its student lunch aid program. He also suggested city staff has another look at the policy in the next rate structure set for 2017.
Councilman Dean Randall applauded the staff for its work to halt sewage rate increases.
“Thank goodness we’re not going to have to increase rates for wastewater. I appreciate, again, the staff for their efforts to bring innovative ideas and helped us get out of going to Everett. That will probably help us out a lot.”
The council passed the new rates unanimously.

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