Council delays sewer rate update
March 24, 2022
[Editor: This story has been updated from first publication to correct an error in the number of commercial accounts seeing rate increases under the proposed new rates.]
After long discussion, members of the Cathlamet Town Council on Monday took no action on a proposed update of sewer rates.
Town officials have long agreed that the rates are inequitable. Customers living outside city limits pay higher than people inside city limits; and commercial customers have higher rates than residential customers.
Council members, consultants and town staff have studied rates and developed concepts to make rates equitable for all customers, and on Monday Mayor David Olson and Clerk/Treasurer Sarah Clark presented the latest proposal.
Under the proposed structure:
--The minimum monthly charge for all users would be $99, and
--Commercial users would be billed for usage in excess of 150 cubic feet (CF) of water per month.
Metered water consumption would be the basis of the rates; officials note they can't meter sewage.
"The town currently has 331 residential users," Clark reported; "of those, 100 percent would benefit from this rate structure and see a rate reduction of no less than $7.48 per month."
Further, of the town's 79 commercial customers, 42% would have a monthly bill of $99 and 78% would have a rate reduction. Seventeen users would see increases.
The town doesn't have enough customers overall to have a beneficial single rate, Clark said; only 62 percent of customers would benefit from a single rate structure.
"With the mixed rate, 92 percent of our customers would benefit," Olson commented.
Council members called the proposal a step in the right direction, but two asked for more detail and some revisions.
"I would like to verify that, yes, this is the best we can do," commented Council Member Laurel Waller, who has been a champion of updating rates. She suggested running the proposal by a consultant who worked on rates last year for the council. She also suggested presenting an analysis that shows both water and sewer rates together so that a customer could see what their bill would be.
Council Member Robert Stowe said he wanted to see rates based on usage for all customers.
"I'm unhappy that when we said we wanted to go usage, that didn't happen," he said. "Usage has to be in there."
"I don't think this is out of the gate the right way," Waller said. "We need a different base rate, and residential usage has to be considered also."
Two council members expressed support of the proposal.
"I have to say that what I see here is a major step toward fairness and equality and better than anything I've seen in the past," said Kermit Chamberlin.
"Something is better than nothing," commented Jeanne Hendrickson.
She suggested that the council could move forward with the new structure, monitor the effects and impacts, and make adjustments as needed. She added that the town government needs to support the business community, which would benefit from the new rates.
"We really need to get something going," she said.
However, with no clear majority support for the proposal, Mayor Olson ruled out calling for a motion to adopt the rates and asked the council where they wanted to go.
"The perfect should not be the enemy of the good," he remarked, noting that the proposal would bring rate relief to both residential and commercial users.
"This is the most important thing that has come across my desk" Waller said. "This impacts everyone. I want to shift a little more and have a plan on how we continue."
Two members of the business community commented they were happy to see the council working for equitable rates for all customers and relief for commercial users.
Real estate agent David Nelson commented that current rates treat residential and commercial tenants of the same building unequally, and that the rate structure overall has been a hurdle stopping new development that would benefit utility systems and the community overall.
Richard Erickson, a member of the Wahkiakum Chamber of Commerce board of directors, agreed.
"To get more people here, you can't penalize them," he said.