Despite voting to increase property taxes to fund wide-ranging infrastructure improvements, Langley residents will have to pay 8 percent more in water, sewer and stormwater rates soon.
But it could have been worse.
The last discussion at the previous week’s budget workshop centered around increasing water rates by 11 percent, sewer rates by 12 percent and stormwater rates by 8 percent. These rates came from individual comprehensive plans, developed with the help of an outside consultant.
After a rousing hour of discussion and public comments at a meeting Monday night, council members voted 3-1 to limit the rate increases to 8 percent for each utility. Council member Dominique Emerson voted in opposition, arguing that the council should approve the original recommendation.
“I feel that the utilities department needs to actually be able to fix things, and if we don’t give them the money to do that, then they’re not going to be able to repair stuff,” Emerson said.
The proposed rate increases were met with varying reactions from citizens present at the city council meeting. Diane Sorensen said the rate increases were “hard to stomach” for residents who will also have to pay increased property taxes for water-related utilities; on Election Day, Langley voters approved a proposition to issue $4 million in general obligation bonds for wide-ranging improvements to the city’s water management system.
Affordable housing was also brought into the conversation. Resident Monica Guzman told the council about a couple she knew who had to move away from Langley when they could no longer afford it.
“You need to stop trying to get money from the citizens,” she said. “Are you really trying to keep people away from here? You talk about building small houses and affordable living, and we’re increasing the utility rates.”
Council Member Christy Korrow responded, suggesting that officials “stop making a big deal about trying to create affordable housing” and be honest about how costly it is to live in Langley.
“It’s going to continue to get more expensive,” she said, “and if you can’t handle it, then maybe it’s not the right place.”
Utilities Supervisor Randi Perry explained that rate increases are needed for the city to be able to sustainably run the utilities.
“There’s no magic money funding source to pay for those things,” she said.
Mayor Tim Callison agreed the cost of living on an island like Whidbey doesn’t come cheap. He asked Perry, as the utilities supervisor, to tell the council at the next meeting how she will apply the 8 percent increase overall that was approved.
For a single-family residence within city limits using base rates, water would cost an additional $3.78, sewer would cost an additional $4 and stormwater would cost an additional $2.29 more per month.