City Council hikes water rate 9 percent to offset conservation-related decline
November 15, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Issaquah customers should start paying more for water soon, after city leaders increased rates to offset conservation-related declines in usage.
In a unanimous decision Nov. 7, City Council members OK’d a 9 percent increase in the municipal water rate. The average residential customer should pay about $3 more per month after the updated water rate goes into effect Dec. 1.
“What we end up paying and the revenues that the city brings in are due to reductions in revenue and usage,” Councilman Joshua Schaer said before the decision. “I find it interestingly perverse that the more we conserve, the more we have to pay.”
The council, although reluctant to increase the rate, said the increase is essential to shore up funding for the municipal water utility. The city provides water to more than 6,500 businesses and homes.
“This will keep our water fund — maybe not as healthy as it could be — but certainly from dipping below zero,” Schaer said.
Officials initially proposed a 10 percent rate increase to replace aging pump stations and water mains, address increased operating costs related to increased charges from Cascade Water Alliance and provide debt service coverage required in bond agreements. Council Utilities, Technology & Environment Committee members reduced the proposed increase to 9 percent.
“It just seems a little counterintuitive but it’s really pretty simple: You’re paying for your water by volume,” Council President John Traeger said. “You take the whole year and you assume how many dollars for this much water that year, and every year it goes up and down and up and down, but the cost to run the system is the same every year.”
The council attributed the drop in usage to conservation and rain-soaked conditions common during La Niña.
“The result of the last couple years of the wet summers has basically eroded the operating cushion that’s in these water funds,” Councilman Mark Mullet said. “Basically, the water funds get the majority of their funds in July and August because it doesn’t rain and everyone has to water their yards. Everyone who lives here knows that the last couple of summers, that hasn’t been the case.”
The council reduced the municipal water rate and added a utility tax in December 2009 — a dollar-for-dollar change meant as a cost-neutral solution for customers.
The decision followed a 2008 state Supreme Court ruling related to how cities pay for municipal fire hydrants. The ruling in Lane v. Seattle identified hydrants as a general government service and not a utility.
“It really seems at odds with the idea of promoting water conservation and being good stewards of the environment to then tell people, ‘You’re doing such a great job, now we’re going to tack on more fees,’ but that’s, unfortunately, the way our water system works,” Schaer said.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.