Give ratepayers a break

The city of Everett has made its annual announcement that it will raise utility rates, the amount yet to be determined.

The reason for the increase is to prepare for a $77 million upgrade of Everett’s wastewater treatment plant, which is nearing capacity. Obviously a project that needs to be done.

But before the city council votes to increase the utility tax in the fall, it would be helpful for ratepayers to have a complete accounting of the other projects that the previous rate hikes have funded. Especially since the utilities department is “self-supporting,” meaning it doesn’t receive money from Everett’s operating budget.

Last year, when the annual rate hike was announced, we were told it was to pay for nearly $184 million worth of utility projects.

In 2009, it was reported the utilities department sought to sell $40 million in bonds to pay for more than two dozen projects, including upgrades to existing utility lines and facilities and expansions to the city’s sewer and water systems at Everett’s riverfront project.

Apparently not among the two dozen projects was a plan to upgrade north Everett’s aging sewer system, with its combined stormwater and sewage lines. In 2010 the system was overwhelmed, sending raw sewage and stormwater into dozens of homeowner’s basements. The city said it expected to pay $1.5 million to repair homes and property. It also said Everett utility customers would foot the bill, but that it didn’t expect to raise rates because of it. Some projects, however, would be delayed.

Since there is an annual utility rate hike, we suppose the city meant it wouldn’t impose an emergency increase to cover the cost.

Meanwhile, a 2010 article on the status of Everett’s riverfront project (stalled) noted that a monthly $2.50 solid waste tax is charged to Everett residents that pays for work to clean up the former landfill site. That would be in addition to the money from the sale of the bonds in 2009 for expansions of sewer and water.

The article noted that the city was about done “moving dirt” around at the site. The developer hired for the project, OliverMcMillan, said it’s holding off on doing any work to the site until the economy turns around.

That being the case, weary Everett utility customers would also like to hold off until the economy turns around. Why doesn’t the city take that $2.50 solid waste tax from the stalled riverfront project and apply it to an actual utility facility, the wastewater treatment plant, which is in need of a $77 million upgrade, instead of increasing rates once again.