The big issue on Monday’s agenda was the water rates ordinance. The mayor’s office developed a new water rate structure to reduce the 2012 water rate increase in order to make summer water bills more affordable. At our meeting, the Council passed this new structure unanimously. The new rates will take effect in June and can be seen here.
As you can see, this structure takes us back to 2010’s four-tier system instead of the current 5-tier system, which many residents have found confusing. The base charge will increase from $12.32 to $13.61, but the rate increase within each tier is not as steep and will make this resource more affordable for a lot of people.
A lot of people who spoke at the meeting were concerned that the new rate structure does not promote water conservation enough. I reminded these folks that the new rate structure is still a progressive, conservation-based structure; it’s just less extreme than what was currently in place. We are still encouraging citizens to use less water by charging more for the higher usage tiers.
Others expressed concern that low-income people in our community would struggle because of the rate increase, and said we should lower rates further for low usage brackets. I pointed out that usage doesn’t necessarily correlate with income – some people who are high income live in small homes and use very little water, while some larger families with lower incomes have larger homes and use more water.
A better solution to protect low-income people who struggle to pay their water bill would be a rebate program like SNAP offers for Avista bills. This is the type of program we can hopefully develop in the future.
I also pointed out at the meeting that an even tougher conversation than this one about water rates will be coming up in the next 90 days, when we’ll need to address sewage projects. In both of these situations, we need to be sure we are taking care of low income users.
Some services offered for water utilities that you may not know about:
- Water audit services – the City will send an expert to your house free of charge to inspect your house and give you ideas on how to conserve water and cut down your water bill.
- Comfort billing – the City will spread out your billing so that your payment is consistent throughout high use summer months and low use winter months.
Remember that when you pay your water bill, you’re not really paying for the water itself. Rather, you are paying for the water to be delivered to your home and for maintenance of the infrastructure that makes it possible for water to be delivered to you.
That’s all for this week. Stay tuned for more news on what the Council’s working on!