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North Bend to hike sewer, water rates

NORTH BEND - In and around working on its budget for 2000,

last week the city of North Bend requested _ and the council approved _ an

increase in sewer and water rates for all commercial and private users.

The request passed during last week's council meeting, held

Tuesday night at the Mount Si Senior Center. The vote for passage was

unanimous; however, it was made in front of near-empty council chamber.

"I frankly expected there would be some public comment tonight,"

said councilman Mark Sollitto of the fee increases, which were

effectively mandated by the city's ongoing water woes and Department of Ecology

requirements.

"There are a number of things we're doing with this ordinance,

and a number of things we're not doing," Sollitto added.

Like several other cities in Washington, North Bend has been

working up alternative budgets in the event Initiate 695 passes next week.

According to city financial officer/treasurer Elena Montgomery, the city's loss

in motor vehicle excise tax, camper excise tax and criminal justice

funding could total $70,000.

She stated the city staff has looked at several options for bringing in

additional income to forestall the impact. Some have come up for

discussion with varying responses, but the one thing that everyone has agreed on

is that the sewer and water rates would have to go up.

"These are the kinds of things the city has to face," said

Montgomery. "That's why we hired a water and sewer study, and why we have to

address inflation and escalating construction costs, which impact

repair and maintenance projects."

Following last month's work study _ at which session the governing

body discussed the rate increases - councilman Fred Rappin commented,

"Our water rate discussionÂ…was of much more importance to the residents

of North Bend. It will very likely result in rate hikes for water and sewer

in the coming years and they will be rather large increases.

"They, of course, have to do with the lack of water rights and our

need to acquire water from Snoqualmie, as well as a means of getting water

into our system," Rappin continued.

"With the building moratorium on because of the lack of rights, we have no

revenue stream from construction to fund this project _ or the sewage

treatment facility that is planned _ without raising rates rather dramatically over

the next six years."

The water rates will increase on average 13.7 percent for the

period 2000-2002. The increase is deemed adequate for the three-year period

and will provide funding of $45,000 per year for the new public works

shop, $100,000 per year in emergency reserves, and $100,000 per year in

capitol reserves. Up until now, the city of North Bend has operated without

any source of funding reserves, and has apparently paid the price for it.

Notably, smaller households will probably see lower or only

slightly increased water bills, while the greater increases will go to the heavier

users. An example presented to the council indicated a typical home using 20

cubic meters of water per month would see an increase of only about 63

cents per month, or about 4.29 percent above the current rate.

The average sewer rate increase came in at 19.48 percent. Again,

the allocation was deemed adequate to provide funding for several sewer

and waste treatment requirements, including $1.3 million for Water Waste

Treatment Plant Phase IIA improvements.

Commenting on the sewer rate increases, City Manager Phil

Messina stated the capitol improvements were driven by Department of

Ecology compliance requirements. Phase IIA will replace the current chlorine

disinfecting system with one using ultraviolet light to remove

pathogens and bacteria from waste water discharged into the Snoqualmie

River. Approximately $750,000 of the funding will be used to replace

roughly 3,000 feet of deteriorated sewer line in the downtown area.

As an additional result, there will no longer be a rate penalty for

sewer users who water their lawns during the summer, because summer charges

will be based on average winter consumption.

Discussion among the council followed, with Sollitto taking the

lead, stating, "There are number of capitol improvements. We have no choice,

but it is also the right thing to do.

"In addition, we're establishing a capitol reserve and an emergency

reserve. Prudent fiscal policy would argue for setting aside dollars for

emergencies, and being prepared to replace critical components. The sewage

plant is fragile, and city staff has done an excellent job holding it together."

Sollitto added he felt the water increase was "also high," but

advised those residents who trim their water use should see their rates go down.

The other council members agree and, after accepting the water

and sewer increases in the first reading, approved the Taxes, Rates and

Fee Schedule Ordinance. The new fees will go into effect on Dec. 31, 1999.

Other fees affected by the ordinance include a reduction in the

Development Permit from $350 to $50, and zeroing of the Elevation

Certificate Fee and Flood Zone Determination Fee, formerly $50 and $25

respectively.

Concerning budget issues in general, Montgomery advises that

even without 695 passing, the city is currently short an indeterminate

amount, and will have to either cut some programs or raise additional

funding through other means. An alternative budget is being developed in the

event I-695 does pass.

"We will have more ideas of how the general fund is going to be

resolved after Oct. 26," she concluded. "But we're going to have a

budget whether 695 passes or not. We're not just going to wait and see what

happens.

"But, we're fortunate, because we're not in a position like

Duvall. We'll not have to adjust as much as some other cities."

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