Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District officials consider water rate hike

December 13, 2011

By Staff

Less than a month after the City Council raised water rates for most Issaquah customers, the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District is considering a hike next year to offset losses related to the cool, soggy summer.

District officials blame the weather, in part, for water revenues coming in about 8 percent below budget in 2011. The cloud cover and moderate temperatures meant fewer people watered lawns — resulting in lower water consumption and less money for the district.

The district encompasses North Issaquah neighborhoods, including Providence Point, and Klahanie in unincorporated King County.

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’s conservation measures and the proliferation of “green” technology — such as low-flow toilets — also likely contributed to lower-than-expected water use, district General Manager Jay Krauss said.

Issaquah officials faced a similar quandary. In November, City Council members OK’d a 9 percent water rate increase. The average residential customer started to pay about $3 more per month Dec. 1.

In the water district, commissioners raised rates about 13 percent earlier this year, 7.5 percent last year, 7 percent in 2009 and 9 percent in 2008.

Overall, the district distributed 1.387 billion gallons of water through Oct. 31 — down from 1.416 billion gallons through the same period last year and 1.631 billion gallons in 2009.

The less-than-rosy revenue picture — taken alongside the district’s ongoing commitment to collect money from current ratepayers to go toward future replacement costs — means another rate increase is likely for 2012.

District commissioners must decide whether the hike means increased first-time connection fees or higher water rates for all customers.

Commissioner Bob Brady said he is mindful of the impact of the rate increase and is hopeful commissioners can find a way to moderate future increases, either by tying hikes to some sort of consumer price index or forming a citizens group to advise commissioners.

The district’s commitment to save money for future capital costs and — officials hope — prevent large rate increases as the system ages and needs replacement also drive recent rate increases. The district plans to save $3.6 million in rate revenue next year, up from $3.3 million this year.

Krauss said the district is required to build infrastructure to accommodate future growth, but the uncertain housing market makes projecting growth difficult.

The district’s capital budget is also experiencing the impact of lower-than-expected participation rates on some major sewer projects, including a $2.4 million Southeast 20th Street sewer line in Sammamish.

Commissioners decided to take advantage of Sammamish officials’ plans to expand the road in 2009 and lay down sewer line at the same time, though less than one-third of the residents along the road favored the project. The district saved about $500,000 in paving costs on the project.

“It’s sort of a ‘build it and they will come’ thing, but they just don’t always come as fast as you’d like,” water district Finance Manager Angel Barton said.

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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