Sunnyside residents can expect to see another rate increase on their water and sewer bills at the beginning of March.
The Sunnyside City Council approved the rate increase at Monday night's meeting. The latest rate increase marks the third time in less than a year the city has raised water and sewer rates.
In August 2003, the Council approved a 6 percent rate increase for water and another 5.5 percent increase in sewer services. Later in the year in December, the Council implemented another rate increase of 5.8 percent for water and 6 percent for sewer. Prior to the August increase, the Council had not raised water and sewer rates in a decade.
Interim City Manager Mark Kunkler said the latest rate increase is basically to help bring the city in compliance with the mandated debt for the water and sewer bonds the Council implemented a few years ago. The city is currently not in compliance with the terms of the bond debt.
Beginning March 1, local residents will see an additional 6.86 percent increase in water rates and another 6.89 percent in sewer rates. City Finance Director Bud Schatz included an additional 3 percent in the sewer rate charges to help rebuild the depleted sewer reserve funds. The extra 3 percent will give the city an estimated $37,000 in reserves this year.
Local water and sewer users will start seeing the new rates reflected in their April 1 bill.
But the city also faces another challenge in implementing water and sewer rates. The way the city's water consumption billing is charted, residents are rewarded for using more water as a result of paying less for the more they consume. Kunkler said this is an issue the city is taking heat on from the state because it doesn't stress conservation.
Under the new rates, customers will begin paying $1.39 for each cubic foot of consumption between 301 and 1,200. This is the level of consumption most residents fall within. Customers are charged a minimum of 300 cubic feet of consumption at a rate of $1.39, resulting in a flat beginning fee of $28.12. Presently, the amount then goes down for customers who use more water.
Beginning March 1, customers will be charged a minimum sewer usage rate of $22.33. The charge for using between 301 and 10,000 cubic feet will be $1.98 per 100 cubic feet. The fees then slide down as more sewage is disposed.
The ordinance also covers fees for commercial customers and processing plant users, as well as mobile home parks. There is also a section highlighting the fees for using a grease trap or a sedimentation trap.
Councilman Don Vlieger wanted city staff to address the issue of how the water rates are structured as soon as possible.
"This is just not right," said Vlieger. "People who conserve water get penalized."
Public Works Superintendent Ken Ott told Council the city is addressing the rate structure as part of updating its water comprehensive plan, which must be completed by this summer. Ott is expecting to have a report to the Council on the rate structure in May.
Vlieger also wanted to look at implementing a rate structure that would benefit all users, not just provide specific cuts to certain people.
Gene Bliesner provided the lone public comment on the water and sewer rate increases. Bliesner, who owns Valley Processing, told Council that large businesses in town, such as his processing plant, subsidize the smaller, residential users. Bliesner also added that on average senior citizens in the community are some of the wealthiest residents. Bliesner felt no special privilege should be given in regards to fees for water and sewer use to seniors just because of their age.
"It should be based more on their need," said Bliesner.
Mayor Pro-tem Mike Farmer explained there is a qualification process anyone looking for a reduced rate has to go through to become eligible.
. Mike Kantman can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or email him at email@example.com