Cooperation could save city $10 million
September 3, 2013
By Peter Clark
If water district would allow takeover of wells
A recently released study found that cooperation in the city’s consideration to take over Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District wells could save $10 million.
In an effort to consolidate utilities for its citizens, Issaquah has considered assuming three wells that are within city limits. Toward that goal, it contracted RH2 Engineering to further understand the costs, benefits and potential hurdles that would accompany such a move. The study was released Aug. 15.
The study clearly outlines the $10 million cost difference based on whether the district would work cooperatively with the city in separating the utilities or not. It also says customers would pay less under Issaquah ownership.
“Consistent with its comprehensive plan policy, Issaquah desires to serve all residents within its incorporated city limits,” the study’s executive summary reads. “In addition to being allowed by law, assumption of water and sewer districts by cities is encouraged by the Growth Management Act and King County policies.”
According to the study, should the city pursue the assumption, it would lead to more efficient service from the utility.
“This assumption would provide a uniform and efficient level of service to all Issaquah residents, and allow customers reasonable and efficient access to Issaquah policy makers and, therefore, rate setting and control,” it reads. “The proposed assumption would increase efficiency by reducing the fragmentation and overlapping jurisdictions that currently exist.”
The water district, according to 2011 billing records that counted water meters, not individual households, serves 8,470 customers within the assumption area. However, the district had previously stated that over 50 percent of its resources are drawn from the well field. It has vocally opposed the city’s investigation into well assumption and has stated concerns that a loss of the resources would drive up costs for its customers.
The study claims prices for customers within the assumption area would drop if the utility were taken over by the city. A bill would drop from $105.58 to $95.57 for an average single-family residential customer.
Many questions still remain about how the two entities would function side by side, should the city decide to seek assuming the wells. The study outlines two distinct routes to separate the resources from the district: a cooperative one and an adversarial one.
“The cooperative system separation option would separate the district and water systems while maintaining the existing the level of service to customers within and outside of the assumed areas,” it reads. “The adversarial system separation option is included in the event the district is not willing to participate with Issaquah.”
The study clearly states the cooperative method is the preferred one and outlines the cost differences between the two.
A cooperative approach to separate the systems would total $2,015,000, and allow sharing of some utilities. An adversarial solution would firmly and completely separate the system, costing an estimated $12.5 million.
Financial specifics such as budgeting and taxpayer burden were not a part of the study and as the process is in the preliminary stages, they remain unclear.
City Communications Manager Autumn Monahan said the next steps are for the study to go before the council that might refer it to a committee. However, there is no firm time frame on when that might occur.
“Given council’s docket of major issues, it’s not on the schedule at this time,” Monahan said. “There’s nothing urgent about it at this moment.”
The future will determine whether the city and the district will cooperate.
“First is to see if the council wants to pursue assumption,” she said. “It’s more whether each of those agencies will want to cooperate with each other in that process. All that digging will be happening within the council.”
District General Manager Jay Krauss said little more than that the utility has the study.
“We’re presently reviewing it,” he said. “We’re reviewing what Issaquah is presenting to the public. The study is relatively fresh in the hands of the public and we’re trying to sort through the information it contains.”