‘Significant issues’Utility rates going up to cover maintenance needs, Hinson says
During a work session regarding the Washington city budget for the coming year, council members discussed a proposed 3.5 percent across the board increase on water, and sewer, and an increase from $4.35 to $5 per month for sanitation.
Councilors discussed the manner in which an increase would be presented to service users. In the case of water, discussion was given to increasing the amount for usage rather than the base amount, so greater water users would pay more. Council member Bob Shellmyer said that he wanted bills to be color coded, so users could see where their money was going. City Administrator Brent Hinson is going to go some studies for the council before the final decision on rate increases is made.
“The bill overall will go up, but we are going to try to keep it as modest of an increase as possible,” Hinson said this morning. “There are some significant issues we have to deal with and they are very urgent.”
Hinson said the biggest fault for the increase is a history of trying to keep the rates low and neglecting maintenance on the systems for many years. He said the city’s plan is to keep increases small but regular. He predicts yearly increases. He said he believes the recent wastewater treatment plant project hurt the city because increases in user fees were done all at once.
At this point, Hinson said that the sewer rates can probably stay at a 3 ½ percent per year increase. He said it would be harder to keep up the water system with that small of an increase. He had originally recommended
“We have 100 year old ground storage that is in very poor structural shape,” he said. “We have a 95 year old water tower that is in poor structural shape and has some serious issues. The membranes in our type of water plant are supposed to be changed every seven to 10 years and we still have the membranes from 1993.”
Hinson said there have been no capital expenditures in the water system since 1993. He said the city had received a structural report on the north water tower in 2001 saying it was urgent the city replace the tower within five years. He also said the city hasn’t drilled a new municipal well since 1967. He said the urgency of the issues is driving the increases. Hinson, who arrived in Washington about a year ago, also said he didn’t know why the system hadn’t been maintained.
“It wouldn’t be surprising to see a need for $10 million in capital spending over the next five years in the water utility,” Hinson said. “That is the significance of the problems. They are big.”
He said sanitation costs are going up to ensure the fund remains solvent.