City can expect more sewer hikes in 2009
By Tara Nelson
Blaine ratepayers will see additional increases in their sewer rates beginning next year.
In a recent work session of Blaine City Council, public works director Steve Banham said because of a condition of a recent grant for the proposed Lighthouse Point water reclamation facility, officials will be forced to make adjustments to the city’s sewer rate schedule, which is already slated to increase over the next three years.
The $8 million grant was administered by the USDA Rural Development program and requires the city to make annual provisions in the amount of $140,000 in the operating budget for future equipment replacement, said Ed Cebron, a consultant with the FCS Group that was hired to complete the rate schedule.
Cebron said the requirement will likely result in a $4 increase per month by the time the facility is completed in 2011. This will bring the final projected sewer rate to $87.72 from $84, the rate the city projected last November.
“The provision is there so you can fund and fix things as they wear out in the plant,” Cebron said. “And there will be a lot of equipment there and sooner or later things will start going wrong. From a financial management perspective, this is a good feature to have in your rate structure.”
The general facilities fee (GFF), which is charged to new users when they connect to city sewer lines, will also be increased.
Blaine residents currently pay an average of $65.19 per month. Banham said because that rate is already “locked in” they will not be affected during 2008. Rates for 2009, however, will increase from $71 to $73 and to $81 in 2010.
Banham said although those rates are higher than previously thought, if residential growth rates exceed projections or if construction costs turn out to be less than expected, city officials may make adjustments.
“In the light of the current market, we’ve been very conservative about any population growth forecasts, so if growth rebounds between now and 2011, than that rate would potentially come down,” Banham said.
“We’re hoping they will be less but it’s better to be on the safe side.”
He added that the rates already provide an extra $3 million in contingency funds to shield ratepayers from incremental increases as a result of construction contract amendments.
And while proposed residential rates may seem high, Banham said it’s only a matter of time before other municipalities with aging facilities also increase their rates.
The city of Carnation, which recently constructed a new wastewater treatment facility, for example, charges nearly $90 per month for residential users.
The city of Bellingham also recently proposed to increase their sewer rates by as much as 46 percent in the next year.
“A lot of people are living off an increasingly limited capacity of plants that were built long ago and they are enjoying low rates as a result,” he said. “But at some point those communities will require capital facilities improvements.”
“Our current plant on the Semiahmoo spit is 28 years old and is already wearing out. It also does not have the capacity to serve our growing community and the site cannot be expanded because of archeological issues.”