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Water changes on tap: Residents turned off by Langley water rates
Langley city officials’ proposed comprehensive water plan update and rate hike saw its first real critics this week.
The plan would raise more money to support the water system, while cutting rates for qualifying seniors and low income people, raising rates for others, and actually encouraging more water usage to keep the system clean.
During the City Council’s regular meeting Monday, about a dozen people showed up for a public hearing to complain about the new rate structure and the planning process for long-range projects.
The new rate structure, which applies to residential customers only, is proposed to change from the current monthly base rate of $25.46 with a 43-cent charge per 100 gallons to a monthly base rate of $39.59 for up to 10,000 gallons used. Every additional 100 gallons would cost another 50 cents up to 30,000 gallons and any more than that would run $1.25 per 100 gallons.
City officials say the rate schedule is designed to encourage water conservation among the heaviest users. But, based on the 117-gallon per day usage of the average household, they maintain that most residents will actually see their monthly bill go down by about $1.
However, those who use little water now say the change will be a hefty increase and may just change their habits.
“I consider myself a water sipper, not a water user,” said Joyce Fossek, a longtime Langley resident.
“I think I’m going to have to use a heck of a lot more water,” she said.
Kay Lagerquist, also of Langley, said she thought her rate would double and worried about the expense.
“It’s a significant amount of money per billing,” Lagerquist said.
Challis Stringer, director of Public Works, said the city is mandated by law to maintain and improve its water system. And a water study she performed indicated that the current rate schedule will leave the city in the red by about $15,000 by the end of 2012. The new rates will bring in just enough to fill the gap.
Mayor Larry Kwarsick said there are many rate structures out there, but at the end of the day each city is required by law to make sure it brings in enough revenue to cover its costs. The water system has to be run like a business, he said.
“This is a business and unfortunately it’s about income,” Kwarsick said.
“We have to keep the system solvent.”
City officials did point out that the new schedule proposes the creation of a new customer class for low-income seniors and citizens. Those who qualify would see their monthly billing fee reduced by 50 percent.
While this is a rate structure designed around conservation, the city has done so well conserving in recent years that it’s actually begun to cause problems. Less use has resulted in sediment buildup in the pipes, which requires the city to flush the system more frequently.
Conservation efforts resulted in a 1 million gallon decrease in usage last year, but the city had to flush more than half of that away. So, while the new structure would seek to reduce usage among its heaviest users, Stringer said the new rate structure is expected to increase city-wide usage by about 1 million gallons a year, thereby reducing the amount of needed flushing.
Concern about projects on the city’s proposed comprehensive water plan update was also voiced. The plan only outlines funding for about $1.7 million in projects over the next six years, most of which are the replacement of antiquated water mains.
But, it also mentions projects that could take place within the next 20 years. One includes the construction of a 1 million gallon capacity water tower near Talking Circle. Nearby residents say the structure could be 100 feet tall and that they were never told about the project.
“This is approximately the size of a 10-story building,” Gil Low said.
“This was quite shocking,” said Mully Mullally, while holding up a picture of a large water tower.
She and several others requested that the city have some type of process to let the public know about important projects no matter how far out in the future they are planned.
Before a water tower could be built, it would go through a significant public process, from being reviewed by the planning board and council to being subject to at least one public hearing.
But Kwarsick acknowledged after the meeting that more could be done to make sure people are aware of possible future projects and that he would be looking at ways to accomplish that.
As this was just a first reading for the comprehensive water system plan and rate hike, the council did not take action. Kwarsick said he would be taking a second look at the rate structure before it comes back to the council for a vote but made it clear he was making no promises.
“We have ‘X’ number of dollars we have to collect,” Kwarsick said.