Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District rates to increase

May 24, 2011

By Staff

Rates for water and sewer service rise for some Issaquah residents June 1, as the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District confronts a cool economy and increased costs.

The increase amounts to about 13 percent overall — or a $6.74 monthly hike for the average ratepayer.

The district encompasses North Issaquah neighborhoods, including Providence Point, and Klahanie in unincorporated King County. The district is in the process of annexing Issaquah’s Overdale Park neighborhood.

The district’s commissioners approved the rate increase in a 4-1 decision May 23, increasing water rates by 12.7 percent and sewer rates by 13.5 percent — the largest increase the district has made in at least five years.

District General Manager Jay Krauss and Finance Manager Angel Barton cited the down economy, sluggish construction market and increases in the costs of doing business for the 51-employee agency. High gas and electricity prices, as well as employee wages and benefits, also contribute to the rate hike.

Overall, the district serves more than 16,000 customers in Issaquah, Sammamish and unincorporated King County. Beyond the district, Issaquah provides water and sewer service to most city residents, although Bellevue handles the Greenwood Point area along Lake Sammamish.

The district estimates the rate hike means the average homeowner should pay $92.27 every two months for water and sewer service — more than the Issaquah municipal utility at $90.20, the Northeast Sammamish Water and Sewer District at $84.24 and the Redmond municipal utility at $78.14. But the total is lower than in Woodinville ($96.41) and Renton ($99.76).

Commissioner Tom Harman, the lone dissenting vote on the rate increase, said he thought the hike was too large amid a tough economy.

“We’ve got ratepayers living in Providence Point,” he said. “They’re not seeing an increase in their Social Security payments — they’re living on a fixed income.”

To raise rates “in one fell swoop like this is a little bit much,” he said.

Hike lays foundation for replacements

Officials said more than one-third of the increase is for the district’s replacement fund — a 4-year-old account aimed at banking money for the replacement of aging infrastructure.

The district has pipes approaching 40 or 50 years old in some older developments on the Sammamish Plateau. Officials aim to make current ratepayers shoulder future costs.

“The commissioners believe it’s their responsibility to set some of these funds aside … so that that burden is supported by the system’s current users rather than shifted to future users of the system,” Krauss said.

In addition to rising gas and electricity prices, Krauss said the district also has numerous employees approaching the higher end of the district’s salary ladder — meaning increases in personnel costs. The cost of health care has also been rising at about 6 percent per year.

Barton said 2 percent of the water rate increase and 1.6 percent of the sewer rate increase is due to rising operating expenses.

The district is also feeling a crunch from the downturn in construction due to a drop-off in development fees.

Krauss said the district’s operating budget is affected by the slowdown, because the district must plan ahead in making capital investments to accommodate future growth.

The down economy also means the district is getting less of a return on its investments through the King County Investment Pool. The fund handles cash reserves for nearly 100 school, fire, and water and sewer districts in the county.

Harman said investing in the replacement fund is good policy in order to avoid the potential of even larger and more sudden rate increases as the district’s infrastructure starts needing replacement in the coming years. But he said the agency could find ways to trim costs in next year’s budget.

“We’ve got to find some cost-cutting,” he said. “We just can’t sustain these types of rate increases.”

Recent rate increases

Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District customers start paying more for water and sewer service June 1. The district has also increased rates in recent years:

  • 2006 — 4 percent
  • 2007 — 0 percent
  • 2008 — 9 percent
  • 2009 — 7 percent
  • 2010 — 7.5 percent
  • 2011 — 13 percent

Source: Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District

Caleb Heeringa: 392-6434, ext. 247, or cheeringa@isspress.com. Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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