POULSBO — After nearly two years and innumerable drafts, the Poulsbo City Council finally approved new water and sewer rates this week.
The city first began reviewing its utility fee structure in January of 2000. Poulsbo had last looked at its water rates in 1992 and its sewer rates in 1998. The study concluded that not only were the enterprise funds not paying for themselves through the current fee structure but that there were inequities across customer classes.
Public Works Superintendent Bill Duffy said while inflation mandated that utility rates should be raised, he felt that they should be adjusted to reflect actual cost. In the current rate schedule, commodity costs per unit decreased as the consumption increased. In most cases, this meant that commercial users who had high usage were actually paying less per gallon than residential users, even if the residents conserved resources.
Duffy said the new rate structure, which the city council approved Dec. 11, will address this disparity. It reflects a 10.27 percent increase in water rates and a 4.18 percent increase in sewer rates, but more importantly, it more accurately charges users for actual use.
“In both water and sewer we wound up reducing the base fee but increasing the commodity charge,” Duffy explained. “One of the reasons we did this was it allows the citizens to monitor their bills. You can watch your water consumption and thereby reduce your bill. And in some areas, the rate has actually gone down because it was a rate adjustment to go back and provide equity.”
Despite having grilled Duffy for months in order to make sure any possible rate increase was done fairly, council members by and large praised the plan as a giant leap forward in keeping the city’s utilities in good working order.
“I do believe these rates are fair and equitable,” Councilwoman Jackie Aitchison commented on rates to the rest of the council this week. “If you use a lot of water, you’re going to pay and if you conserve, you have the opportunity to save and I think for a long time our fees were not equitable.”
“Poulsbo will be very competitive or below most of the jurisdictions in Kitsap County, so we’re not pricing ourselves out of the system,” added Councilman Dale Rudolph.
Another addition that Duffy said makes the rates more equitable has to do with fireline access.
Previously only residential users were charged for fireline use, despite the fact that many commercial users have multiple hydrants and sprinklers. Under the newly-approved plan, users will be charged for fireline access based on meter size, beginning with $14.09 for a 1.5-inch meter and going up to $208.09 for an 8-inch meter.
Besides conservation, Duffy added that there may be other ways for customers to avoid excessive bills. In reviewing what the new rate schedule might mean for actual customers across the classes, Duffy said he found many customers who could be saving money by using a different meter size, or whose consumption levels showed they might have a leak in their system. He said the Public Works Department is more than willing to meet with any customers to review their services and make sure they’re getting the best bang for their buck in terms of utilities.
“When people look at their new utility bills they may want to make an appointment to come in and consider different sizing for their services,” Duffy added. “Every account I looked at one or two or more meters could use some sizing help.”
The new rates also include a section that allows for bill adjustments in the case of a leak or break that the customer fixes. Duffy said with the proper documentation, a customer can request to have bills up to three months back re-evaluated if they discover problem that would cause higher than normal utility bills for them and fix it.
“If you’ve got old service lines and they are leaking or if for some reason you have a high bill and you affect repairs that fix that, we want to acknowledge that because it saves the city water,” Duffy explained.
A complete copy of the new utility rate schedule is available through the City Clerk’s office or Public Works. For more information, or to make an appointment to review utility services, call (360) 779-4078.