The average family in Langley could pay at least $110 more in utility rates next year if council members adopt a new proposal.
During a meeting Monday, Utilities Supervisor Randi Perry brought a staff-recommended proposal to the council that would increase utility rates and participation fees.
The hikes would fund public works capital improvement projects that are not covered by the $4-million bond voters approved last year or the $3-million grant from the county that was contingent on that approval.
Perry’s memo describes a proposed increase of 8 percent for sewer rates, starting in January 2021.
The increase would amount to $4.30 per month, or $51.60 annually, for both residential and commercial properties.
The increase would also raise participation fees, the price paid to connect a new utility, from $5,614 to $6,063.12.
Perry noted in her memo that the city’s 2015 Comprehensive Plan had originally called for a 15 percent increase in 2021.
Perry also recommends a 6 percent increase for water and participation fees.
For residential, the base fee would be $3.15 more per month, or $37.80 annually. Usage between 7,001-30,000 gallons is $0.04 per 100 gallons, and more than 30,000 gallons is $0.10 per 100 gallons.
For commercial, the base fee is $2.17 per month, or $26.04 annually. All usage is $0.04 per 100 gallons.
The participation fees would change from $7,415 to $7,859.90.
Lastly, the staff recommendation includes a 6 percent increase in the stormwater rate. The breakdown of increases for this utility is a little more complex.
For a residential single family development, it would be $1.79 more per month, or $21.48 annually. For a duplex or accessory dwelling unit, it would be $2.16 per month, or $25.92 annually.
For a multi-family development over two units, it would be $3.65 per month, or $43.80 annually. For an undeveloped unit, it would be $0.95 per month, or $11.40 annually.
For a commercial development, the increase would be $2.46 per month, or $29.52 annually. For an undeveloped unit, it would be $0.97 per month, or $11.64 annually.
The proposed increases would help fund capital projects that were put on hold because of emergency projects and projects that were underfunded because of other projects going over budget.
Some of the maintenance, such as sewer improvements and an extension, has been funded by the Langley Improvement Project bond and the grant.
Councilmember Craig Cyr raised concern over low-income seniors not being able to afford the increases in utility rates.
Perry pointed out that the water system offers a 50-percent rate reduction for low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
Darlene Baldwin, who is the city’s assistant clerk and utility clerk, said the reduced rate program has 48 participants.
Cyr said for the low-income seniors he knows, utility bills are their biggest bills.
“I am trying to represent the views of low-income seniors who have approached me saying they are past what they can do,” he said.
Perry said she is looking at a variety of different programs to address this issue.
Councilmember Peter Morton said he was convinced the analysis of the rates was thorough enough.
Langley citizen Paul Samuelson told the council he thought the utility rates, especially water, are high enough already.
He reported that his bill for two months of water usage averages around $400.
Samuelson said he is part of a family of four that uses below the monthly recommended amount of water usage by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I love that we’re focused on increased density,” Samuelson said, “but I don’t think the answer is to charge people who are currently hooked up excessive fees and just continue to increase the fees on the people that are using the system.”
Mayor Tim Callison said increasing the number of utility connections would be a future goal for the city to consider.
In an unusual turn of events for a council that usually acts unanimously, the final vote was 3-1, with Council Member Thomas Gill voting against the proposed increases.
When asked, Gill said he would save his remarks for when the discussion on the issue goes more “in-depth.”
Councilmember Christy Korrow was absent from the meeting.
There will be a public hearing on the utility rates at the next council meeting, which is set for 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 19.