Council to study sewer rate issues
December 10, 2020
On Monday the Cathlamet Town Council reconsidered its decision to raise sewer rates and will review whether users are being treated equitably based on their proportional use of the sewer system. The council also discussed the possibility of starting a utility assistance program for residents.
During the relatively short meeting the council also approved C & C Logging LLC’s bid to harvest the town’s timber; a motion was passed to upgrade the town’s accounting software to cloud based capabilities; and a service agreement with Ecological Land Services was approved by the town for its dock repair. The town will evaluate fire sprinkler requirements from 2017 to determine whether square footage requirements for new commercial buildings can be adjusted. Lastly, the council announced that Council Member Paige Lake has resigned from the council.
Council Member Laurel Waller addressed her concern about the approved sewer rate increase which she felt happened without enough information. Per the town’s municipal code, town staff are required to submit rate recommendations to the council who amend rates to accommodate inflation, cost changes, or other circumstances.
A sewer rate increase was approved during the council’s November 16 regular meeting without staff recommendations. The justification for the 1.6 percent increase was to comply with an existing ordinance establishing an automatic hike as well as to offset inflation.
“We agreed to an increase without looking to the clerk-treasurer or public works superintendent,” said Waller.
According to Waller, Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) did an analysis of the town’s books in 2018, including the outstanding balance on sewer plants and current user rates. RCAC, which provides services beneficial to residents of rural communities, recommended setting rates to accommodate inflation, but an official review by the town wasn't conducted.
Waller explained that several sewer loans have paid off, sewer users have been added, and that rates have increased over the last three years. She feels there might be justification for not needing to raise rates.
Waller and Council Member David Olson felt that rates should be based on a basis of usage to ensure an equitable system.
“Before you go raising or lowering, have some data, know what you’re making a decision on,” Waller told the council.
Olson agreed with Waller’s points and suggested an early 2021 review of user data. Council Member Bill Wainwright concluded that a review and further consultation with RCAC will help set rates that consider the issue of fairness as well as the financial needs of the town.
Council Members Olson and Waller have agreed to research ways to launch a utility assistance program to address distressed rate payers during the time of the pandemic.
According to Olson, the program would mirror the county’s PUD Residential Energy Assistance Program (REAP) wherein customers can make “voluntary contributions to assist low-income residential customers struggling to pay their utility bill.”
It was proposed by the council to contact Lower Columbia CAP (Community Action Program) to help coordinate a collection fund as well as provide additional sources of funding. An organization like CAP or Wahkiakum Health and Human Services could assist with the fund distribution because of their connection to those in need of assistance.
Olson and Waller will return to the council with a more formal plan at a future meeting.