Council seeks more public comment before rate hike action
May 5, 2022
The Cathlamet Town Council on Monday decided to extend the public comment period to May 16 on proposed changes to rates for water and sewer service.
The council wants to modify rates to end inequalities among customer groups. The new rates would include a basic charge and also rates based on customers' consumption of water.
At the April 18 council meeting Clerk/Treasurer Sarah Clark reported that 80 percent of customers would pay only the minimum charge, and the remaining 20 percent would pay extra based on the amount of water consumed.
An analysis showed that many customers would have slightly lower bills, but some would see their bills more than double.
The council had hoped to hear supportive public input on Monday so they could be ready to vote to adopt the new rates at their May 16 meeting and implement them July 1.
However, they had little public input, and Clark reported a flaw in the rates for new connections that could result in a revenue shortfall for the sewer and water system accounts.
Only two customers spoke in the public hearing, and only three others had commented in writing. Of those comments, four out of the five said the new rates would severely impact them.
Council members and town officials were concerned that there hadn't been enough public notice. A mailing with rate information had been posted April 25, a Monday, and the letters didn't show up in mailboxes until the end of the week, they said.
Council members and Mayor David Olson agreed they wanted to have more public input and a chance to examine flaws and the big increases before taking further action.
"After last evening's hearing, I want to be clear that the town welcomes questions and comments on proposed town utility rates through May 16th," Olson said Tuesday. "We are aware and regret USPS mailing delays that led to late receipt of the rate notice prior to last evening's hearing, and want to go the last mile in encouraging public comment and participation before the council determines whether or not to move forward with an ordinance addressed to utility rate revisions; that decision --if made -- is now tentatively set for the first council meeting in June."
In a related matter, Olson asked Town Attorney Fred Johnson to respond to a question about potential conflict of interest by council members developing utility rates.
Johnson replied that the statutes the questioner had cited pertained to quasi-judiciary actions, such as when a council acts on an appeal of code interpretation, and those statutes don't apply to the legislative action that's underway.