Langley council approves sizeable utility rate increases

‘If we kick this can down the road again, shame on us’

Langley residents can expect higher water and sewer bills next year after rate increases were unanimously approved Monday by the city council.

Rate hikes ranging from 6 to 17 percent for water, sewer and stormwater systems are necessary to make up for years of “kicking the can down the road” by previous city administrations, said Councilman Peter Morton, who presented a summary of infrastructure needs.

“Failures are occurring and sewage pipes are misbehaving,” he said. “If it had been an automatic built-in 5 percent increase every year, we wouldn’t be in this position. We have to bring the whole system up. This will make up for 20 to 30 years of neglect.”

Monthly base rates for water would increase to $47.30 from $44.12, sewer monthly base rates would increase to $50.01 from $42.74 and stormwater base rate would increase to $28.63 from $27.01.

Under state law, utilities are broken into separate departments — water, sewer and stormwater in Langley — that operate separately with individual revenues. Rates must cover equipment, staff and expenses to operate and maintain the system.

The systems are run by the public works department; customers are billed every other month.

Rate increases approved for 2019 are 7 percent for water, 17 percent for sewer and 6 percent for stormwater. Rate hikes were approved in a 4-0 vote; Councilwoman Ursula Shoudy left the meeting before the vote.

It averages out to about a 12 to 13 percent increase from the current cost, Mayor Tim Callison said.

Using his own home utility bills as an example, Morton estimated his two-month water bill will increase to $130 from $120; his sewage bill jumps to $120 from $103 and his storm bill rises to $57 from $54.

The water system serves the entire city while about 60 percent of the residential population is hooked up to the sewer system. All businesses and the fairgrounds also use the sewage system.

Council members acknowledged that past utility rate hikes, or proposed increases, led some residents to predict they couldn’t afford to live in Langley anymore.

“The city council has acted over several years to minimize the impact on property owners,” Morton said. “We’re trying to balance the health of the system. If we kick this can down the road again, then shame on us.”

In work sessions over the past month, city council members have been discussing the need to increase rates to ensure the systems aren’t pushed to the breaking point.

A review of sewer rate history reveals recommended increases were deferred, Morton said.

The aging system of the sewage infrastructure is most pressing; First Street has frequent backups. There’s also several trouble locations regarding storm runoff throughout the city, resulting in widespread street ponding.

Equipment needs to be upgraded, such as a new generator at the sewage plant, and old pipes need to be replaced. About 38 percent of the water pipes are at the end of useful life, Morton said.

Each repair identified by an outside engineering firm costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, council member Cristy Korrow pointed out.

Getting more homeowners hooked up to the sewage treatment plant and decreasing the use septic tanks is also a goal.

Residents said Langley’s small population means the same homeowners are being hit again and again to pay for utility improvements.

“I think the rate increases you’re talking about are too much,” said Monica Guzman. “Why can’t you incorporate all those people who are not yet hooked up so there’s an even playing field for pain?”

People who wash their clothes at laundromats can also expect to drop more coins. Craig Izett, owner of All Washed Up, told the council that he’s absorbed past utility increases without raising prices but he’s reached his limit.

“My water and sewer went from $1,100 a month to $2,000 a month to $2,500 a month,” he said. “People already say I charge too much but I’ll have to charge more.”

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