Council rejects property tax, reduces sewer rate hike

Published on Tue, Nov 23, 2010 by By Tara Nelson

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Blaine property owners no longer have to worry about their city property tax bill growing but their sewer rates will still increase.

At its regular meeting Monday, Blaine City Council voted to keep revenue from city property taxes at the current rate rather than enacting a proposed 1 percent increase.

The decision comes after several work sessions and two nights of public hearings in which residents protested the increase and urged the city to lower taxes while not cutting funding for existing programs.

The proposed 1 percent increase would have generated $9,300 to the city’s general fund and help balance an expected $120,000 drop in revenue from 2010.

This is the third consecutive year that the council forgone the allowed 1 percent increase, giving them a banked capacity of about 3 percent, should they choose to use that option in the future.

Council approves 2011 sewer rates

Council also adopted the new 2011 fee schedule for sewer and water utilities.

Blaine public works director Steve Banham said public works staff knew for some time that sewer rates would have to be increased above projections because of lower-than-expected population growth rates that have increased the burden on existing ratepayers.

As a result, Banham said the city’s sewer rates have been scheduled to increase each year to help repay low-interest loans used in the construction of the city’s new $33 million Lighthouse Point water reclamation facility.

Public works staff had originally proposed a 14 percent increase in sewer fees, but after further review and public comment, staff recommended an 11 percent increase. 

The change will mean the single-family fee will increase by $8.94 not the $11.38 that was originally proposed.

Council also voted to increase inactive service charges for residents who are absent for extended periods from 50 to 55 percent of the active rate.

“They can request to have their water turned off and if they do that, the rate they will be paying is $49.64 from $40.67,” said Blaine finance director Jeff Lazenby.

Also, based on public comment from Blaine condominium owners such as Elle Tracy, Tomsic had staff review wastewater fees charged to condominium owners who maintained that they should be charged at the multi-family rather than single-family rate. 

Staff found that historic winter water consumption by condominiums (a good indicator of wastewater use) is about the same as multi-family consumption (about 10 to 15 percent less than single-family). Therefore, Tomsic said the city will amend the municipal code to provide for condominiums so they are charged the lower multi-family wastewater fee in 2011.
It is also the third consecutive year the council agreed not to raise the monthly fee for low-income senior or disabled customers.

Water rates

The council initially considered a 3 percent increase in water user fees. However, based on reduced water use experienced in recent years, the council decided to defer capital projects and not increase the water rate, Banham said.
Based on a recommendation from a public works rate consultant, city council  introduced an inactive service charge for water customers, which is 55 percent of the active rate. For a single family home with a 3/4-inch water meter; this would be $6.16 per month.

Recently, however, the State Supreme Court ruled components of a water system that are attributable to fire protection could not be funded from the water utility and that fire protection had to be funded from the general fund. 

In order to be in compliance with this ruling, the city would require $62,000 in new revenue to the general fund. As a result, the city will increase the utility tax rate on water, waste water and storm water fees from 8.5 to 9 percent.

The city will not increase 2011 monthly fees for electricity.