Mountlake Terrace homeowners will see their stormwater utility rates increase 61 cents a month beginning Jan. 1, as the city moves ahead with plans to upgrade its system and comply with new federal water quality regulations.
The increases, approved unanimously Tuesday, Sept. 2, by the City Council, will be phased in for six years through 2014.
Council members previously reviewed three options for upgrading the stormwater system, which deals strictly with surface water from rainfall and area creeks.
The first, and least expensive option — referred to as “status quo”— would not have raised rates but also would have put the city at risk for not complying with federal requirements, officials say.
A second option, which would require higher rates, would have allowed the city to comply with those federal water quality requirements but would not have provided enough funding for any upgrades.
A third option — one preferred by the council and recommended by staff — raises rates next year with larger increases every year through 2014. In return, the city would be able to pay for $2.2 million worth of capital improvement projects related to stormwater in and around Lake Ballinger.
“Given all the flooding problems we’ve had, it was pretty evident we need to go with option three,” said city manager John Caulfield.
In 2006, the council approved six years of utility rate increases for sewer, drinking water and stormwater. The latest increase amends the stormwater plan from 2006 and adjusts rates accordingly, said Mike Shaw, the city’s storm water project manager.
One big Hall Creek project, culvert repair at 230th Street Southwest, would cost $300,000.
“It’s one of the places we can start to alleviate our flooding situation on Hall Creek,” Shaw said.
Mountlake Terrace is part of a multi-city consortium that joined forces to come up with a plan to address pressing Lake Ballinger issues such as flooding and water quality. Funds from the third option include some funding for that consortium.
“I’d like to thank you, Mr. Shaw, for putting this on the cutting edge,” Councilman John Zambrano said Aug. 28. “I can already hear the people down at Lake Ballinger saying ‘somebody finally heard our call for help.’”
Part of the urgency in revising rates is a direct result of new federal regulations all cities face. Those regulations, known as the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, force cities to implement new, more stringent water treatment standards.
“From a compliance standpoint, we have to figure out a way to incorporate into our storm water plan NPDES” plus capital expenses and Lake Ballinger issues, Caulfield said. “Really, the status quo was not an option.”
He said the city could have faced civil or criminal fines for not complying with new federal regulations.