Cathlamet council sets sewer, water rate increases


November 23, 2017

Customers of the Town of Cathlamet's water and sewer systems will see 2.9 percent rate increases in 2018, the town council decided Monday.

The increases are included in an ordinance which passed its first reading by a 4-0 vote on Monday. Final action on the ordinance will take place at the council's Dec. 18 meeting.

Under the proposed new rates, the basic monthly water charge would be $35.96 inside city limits and $52.76 outside the city limits.

The basic monthly sewer charge would be $98.78 inside city limits and $114.84 outside the city limits.

The increases are a result of an effort to put the utilities on a sustainable footing.

Realizing last year that sewer rates weren't paying all the utility's cost, the council implemented a 20 percent increase for sewer rates and 10 percent for water rates last January.

That put the utilities on solid footing for 2017, but a consultant's analysis concluded that without further increases, the two utility funds would be in trouble in five years. The consultant recommend further increase of no less than 1.5 percent in order to keep up with inflation and build a reserve for equipment replacement.

At a special meeting for a budget workshop October 27, council members voted to increase sewer rates by 2 percent, and when the council met on Monday, they bumped that up to 2.9 percent for both the sewer and water rates.

To keep up with inflation, the rates will also have an automatic increase based on the Consumer Price Index for the Western Region.

Council members hope the gradual increases will ensure the utilities' financial health and avoid the need for large increases.

The council also retains the right to hold off an increase if financial conditions merit. However, the ordinance also requires annual audits by town staff to analyze system finances.

In comments taken after the council had voted to approve the ordinance and increases, Laurel Waller, a successful candidate for council, questioned the need for the 2.9 increase.

"We've just went through a big increase and now you're stable," she said. "The recommendation was 1.5 percent, and now it's 2.9 percent. That's not a large number on small amounts, but year after year, three multiplies faster than two."

Council Member Ryan Smith responded quickly.

"We're victims of inflation and we will be from now to forever," Smith said. "We've gotten to a point where we're so far behind and I don't want to put us in a position to fail."

In other business, council members authorized Public Works Director Duncan Cruickshank to apply for a loan to finance a new water main along Columbia Street between Jacobson Road and SR 4.

Cruickshank said the current main is precarious because it is suspended four feet in the air by old water pipe as it crosses a creek to Island View Lane.

"It's very vulnerable," he said. "We've had two serious breaks that caused a real disturbance for us."

The work would be done in conjunction with a county road widening project, and that could provide some cost savings, he said.

Cruickshank said he would pursue other funding for the $550,000 project.


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