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Water rate increase takes some explaining

About 10 of Langley’s water customers came to the Langley City Council meeting Nov. 5 to find out why their water bills could be bigger next year.

At the meeting, city staff explained why an in-house water rate review committee decided to use a rate increase to support capital improvements to the city’s water system over the next six years. The rate increase for city water customers that could take effect as early as January.

The water rate review committee recommended to the Langley City Council at a workshop meeting Oct. 29 that it approve an ordinance to raise rates. The increase would fund capital improvements and maintenance of the water system.

Members of the city council decided to consider raising rates after the Seattle civil engineering firm Hammond Collier Wade Livingstone recommended Langley increase its water rates in the city’s six-year comprehensive plan. The rate increase would be used to pay for capital projects, like replacing almost 4,000 feet of water mains and upgrading a reservoir pump station.

Don Jewett, a Langley water customer who lives outside the city limits on Maple Cove Road, said he hopes the city is carefully examining how water is dispersed and sold, because he feels water isn’t always a renewable resource.

“Water is really fundamental to life,” he said.

Jewett also questioned where the funds from out-of-city-limit customers are dispersed, and whether they go into the city’s general accounts to generate funds for Langley.

According to Debbie Mahler, city clerk, the city currently charges and has always charged customers who live outside the city limits 1.5 times the in-city rate. The funds generated from the difference is put into the city’s general fund.

In-city customers pay an $11 base rate, while customers out of city limits currently pay $16.50. The water rate separate from this base rate for in-city residents is $1.50 per 1,000 gallons, while out-of-city residents pay $2.25 currently.

In his research about the water rate increase, Jewett said he recently found out how typical water customer classifications are formed in Washington state and why different rates are created for customers buying the same water. He asked for reassurance that the same criteria was used in determining the future rate structure classifications as in the past.

“We actually did review all of the classifications,” said Lynn Hicks, Langley’s administrator and attorney.

Hicks explained that a list of 15 items is used to determine what customer pay for water. She said those 15 factors were used to create the new water rates.

Jewett then questioned whether the water system in his neighborhood was receiving adequate maintenance and repairs.

“I don’t like to pay for something that I don’t think I’m getting,” said Jewett.

Councilman Ray Honerlah said Jewett’s perspective raised several important points for the council, and said Jewett’s concerns would be examined and considered before a future increase is adopted.

“If we’re serving you we need to be sure what our responsibilities are,” Honerlah said.

Mayor Lloyd Furman explained to the council and members of the public at the meeting that many cities bill residents living outside of city limits at a higher rate because they don’t pay the property taxes that support the city.

“That’s a very common practice,” he said.

Hicks later broke down where almost $2 million would be spent improving and maintaining the city water system. Approximately $1.5 million will go toward operating expenses, capital improvements and debt on the existing system. In addition, $525,000 will go toward making improvements.

Honerlah noted that the proposed increase may feel large, since the city has not increased rates in 15 years.

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