Everett utility fees keep on increasing

EVERETT — Stan Knoblich couldn’t help but notice his water bill.

It’s set to go up next year — again.

Since 2005, the two-month bill has risen by 65 percent, from $52.70 to next year’s rate of $87.

“It finally got to the point when I couldn’t help but notice the bill,” said the Everett man. “I can remember when the bill was $10 or $20. Now, I’m looking at it and I’m going, ‘Wow.’”

And that’s not “wow” in a good way.

In 2008, the City Council approved a bundle of utility rate changes that nudged fees up every year for four years. This is the last of that set of increases — although it’s likely more will be approved in 2012.

Next year, a single-family home using both city sewer and flat-rate water would be billed $154.80 every two months versus $147.20 now. That’s a 5.2 percent increase.

Those fee hikes are likely to affect people far beyond the city limits of Everett: The city supplies water to most of Snohomish County. The fee increases are also applied to the wholesale rate sold to other water districts, although it’s up to each district to decide if they’ll pass on those increases to their customers.

Fees are going up because the city’s utility department has to pay for nearly $184 million worth of utility projects, said Matt Welborn, Everett’s utilities finance manager.

Those costs have to be paid for by users since the utilities department is self-supporting, meaning it doesn’t receive money from Everett’s operating budget.

The utilities department expects to ask the City Council to approve another four-year rate increase ordinance next year. The council prefers smaller increases annually, Wellborn said.

The increase pays for water and sewer line replacements, projects at the water filtration and wastewater treatment plants, and for expensive state-mandated storm drain upgrades designed to limit pollution in runoff.

For instance, the utilities department now has to more frequently inspect and maintain the city’s storm system. Workers must inspect every catch basin annually and there are 13,000 citywide. In order to do that, the department had to pay for four more employees.

“We’re driven by state and federal regulations, and the regulations don’t care what it costs,” he said. “We are charged with providing safe drinking water and a sanitary sewer system. We can’t cut corners on water quality.”

Even with the increases, Everett customers still pay less than some other places, Welborn said.

City of Seattle customers, for instance, who use 1,000 cubic feet of water a month will pay $364.52 over a two-month period in 2012.

Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or dsmith@heraldnet.com

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