The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Council fills vacancy, studies sewer rates


September 21, 2017

Rick Nelson

Rate consultant Rosanna Noval and Cathlamet businessman David Nelson discuss sewer rate issues during a break at the Cathlamet council meeting.

Members of the Cathlamet Town Council acted on utility rates, appointed a new member, agreed to budget for a town administrator and acted on other business at their monthly meeting on Monday.

Andrew Lea resigned from the council last month, and the council had two applicants to fill the seat for the remainder of the term, which expires December 1.

The council appointed Jean Burnham, a town resident since 2011.

"For a while now, I have been curious as to how things work here, and why they do not," she wrote in her appointment application. "I would like to work on making things better and perhaps help point us in the right direction."

The other candidate was Laurel Waller, who has filed for election to the position. She and a son and daughter have operated the Hotel Cathlamet since early 2016.

"As a resident of Cathlamet, I'm interested in what the town is doing and planning for the future," she wrote in her application. "As an owner of the local hotel, I believe my success is dependent at least in part on the success of the town. Visitors of the hotel clearly see us as representatives of town functions and events."

Council Member Sue Cameron moved to appoint Burnham, and Bernadette Goodroe seconded the motion.

"Laurel Waller is on the ballot," Cameron said, "so it would be good to educate Jean Burnham." she said. The motion passed unanimously.

The meeting started an hour earlier than the usual 6 p.m. starting time with a workshop on the town's sewer system's rates and finances.

Consultant Rosanna Noval of the Rural Community Assistance Corporation said, overall, the sewer fund is in better shape this year than it was last year, and the reason for that is the 20 percent rate increase the council instituted at the beginning of 2017.

The sewer fund should come in under budget and leave approximately $60,000 in cash on hand for 2018. However, with inflation and maintenance costs, that surplus will be gone in five years.

"Future rate increases are absolutely necessary," Noval said.

Noval discussed four rate structures, including the flat rate currently in use; rates based on residential equivalent customer units; rates based on meter size and rates based on volume of water consumption. The first two have similar disadvantages in that they're not tied to use and therefore may be unfair to some customers. Meter based rates require engineering and technology and aren't used by many small towns, Noval said.

Rates based on volume are based on meter readings and need staff and software, which the town has.

Residential customers produce about 65 percent of the volume in the system; commercial accounts produce 22 percent, multi-family residence 8 percent and schools 5 percent, Noval said.

In discussion, Mayor Dale Jacobson pointed out that by the time the town has paid off the cost of the new waste water treatment plant, it will be time to build another.

"You're right," Noval said. "Therefore, how do you save for future needs?"

Cathlamet businessman David Nelson suggested the town pursue means to obtain new connections that would spread out the costs among more ratepayers.

"What would happen if you offered deals," he asked. "The real estate market is on fire . . . "

He also suggested annexing area around the town and offer deals to encourage new connections.

As they stand now, rates and connection fees discourage development, he added.

"What will help is for the community to figure out the best way to split costs among the community," Noval said. "It's really slow, not an easy process.

"If you're thinking of changing the rate structure, now is the ideal time," she said. "If not, we can just adjust the numbers."

Council members indicated interest in rates based on volume. Noval commented that if volume rates are used, there should be a companion fixed monthly charge to cover basic fees.

Rick Nelson

Jean Burnham Named to council

Another suggestion was to ask Wahkiakum County to pass an ordinance requiring houses near utility lines be connected to them. Jacobson said that had been tried unsuccessfully in the past, but he would be happy to have further discussions.

In other business, the council voted to have the position of town administrator placed in the 2018 budget.

Council members have been considering adding the position to assist in administrative duties and manage the day-to-day operations and internal affairs of the town.

The position is not settled; council members could vote not to fill it and to remove it from the budget, but putting it in the budget means the position could be filled.


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