Holiday cheer: water rates staying the same

Mirror staff

Lakehaven Utility District has an early Christmas present for its customers: water and sewer service next year at this year’s prices.

The district commissioners, saying Lakehaven can afford to keep the current rates and help customers’ pocketbooks in the process, voted Nov. 14 to continue the current rates through 2003.

The rates, among the lowest in Washington, haven’t been raised since 1999.

While working on the district’s 2003-04 biennial budget the last few months, the board learned there are enough cash reserves to pay for upcoming improvements of the water and sewer systems. That, combined with relatively stable rate revenues in recent years, made flat rates possible.

“Many of our customers are having to tighten their belts to survive the hard economic times we find ourselves in,” said Commissioner Ed Stewart. “I want to make certain that we are doing our part to hold the line on cost increases for essential services.”

Commissioner Tom Jovanovich said the district wants its rates to be “in line with the average customers’ ability to make ends meet.”

The current rate for the average residential water customer is $22.96 for a two-month period.

One change regarded as a “cost-neutral” adjustment was made in water rates for multi-family accounts. Instead of paying higher water rates in the summer, customers in apartments and other multi-family housing will pay a single year-round consumption rate which will help even out bills between summer and winter, officials said.

An annual survey compiled by the Association of Washington Cities ranks Lakehaven’s water rates near the bottom of municipal water rates statewide. The Lakehaven sewer rates, which are $46.52 for a two-month period for an average residential customer, are also below the state average.

Lakehaven officials expect their rates to remain comparatively low in years to come. At the same time, the district must spend money –– but wisely –– to keep its systems “in good working order,” said Commissioner Dick Mayer.

“By avoiding the inclination to want the biggest or most expensive piece of equipment out there, we can maintain rates and meet our responsibilities to ensure the integrity of the systems and the healthy financial condition of the district,” Mayer said.

Meanwhile, the commissioners applauded the congressional approval this month of a plan for the federal government to give the district as much as $8 million toward developing a program to reclaim and use treated wastewater.

Commissioner Bev Tweddle, who testified twice two years ago at congressional hearings in Washington, D.C. in support of legislation on the matter, said the program “will give us some additional options to provide water to our customers in an environmentally responsible manner.”

Lakehaven provides more than 100,000 residents in addition to businesses with water from underground aquifers. Officials said new sources are needed to avoid overburdening the aquifers. Plans are in place to pipe water from the Green River, starting in 2005.

Through a water reclamation project, the district will be able to keep some or all of the more than six million gallons of treated effluent that now is produced at the Redondo and Lakota wastewater treatment plants and discharged into Puget Sound. Likely uses for the water include irrigation and refilling aquifers.

Commissioner Don Miller thanked U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, whose 9th District includes the Lakehaven service area, and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington for helping the district obtain the federal funding for the reclamation project.

Miller is a longtime advocate of reclaiming wastewater.

The federal funding stems from the Reclamation Wastewater and Groundwater Study and Facilities Act.

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