Sewer rates to rise—slowly

By Jason Miller
posted 9.4.12

Concrete’s cash-strapped sewer utility fund isn’t healing itself, and the only way to bring it back into the black is to raise rates for utility payers.

That’s the way Concrete Town Council members voted during their Aug. 13 regular meeting. After Clerk-Treasurer Andrea Fichter reminded the council of the fund’s shortfall—she first proposed a solution in June—its members voted to increase residential and commercial users’ sewer utility rate by $2.50 every six months through 2020, effective Aug. 1.

The sewer fund is an enterprise fund, meaning it must support itself without an influx of dollars from any unrelated source. Since user rates are the fund’s primary source of revenue, they have to go up, according to Fichter.

Fichter’s proposal bumps the sewer rate up slowly—$5 per year—so that the full brunt of the shortfall isn’t immediately felt. According to her calculations, the rate increase needed currently in order to balance the account is $26.73 per month.

“I just can’t see asking people to suddenly pay $30 more every month,” said Fichter during the Aug. 13 meeting.

Residential users will pay $68.50 per month for the remainder of 2012; commercial users will pay $72.98 per month. If the proposal plays out with no changes, by the end of 2020, residential users will be paying $111 per month and commercial users will be paying $120.48 per month.

Nothing is set in stone, wrote Fichter in an e-mail to Concrete Herald, “keeping in mind that the financial situation can
change at any time, up or down, and will change this proposed rate increase schedule,” she wrote.

Why is the fund in the toilet, as it were? “It’s simply lack of revenues to support expenditures,” said Fichter. The town’s state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant is partly to blame too. Effectively forced by Dept. of Ecology to build the plant, the town must now make payments on loans that funded roughly half of the plant’s construction. The town still has about $3.4 million left in loan repayments.

Lagoon decommissioning
In related news, the town is working to decommission its former wastewater treatment method: a 1.7-million-gallon open-air lagoon adjoining the new wastewater treatment plant.

For the past few weeks, Public Works staff have been drawing the top water off the lagoon and running it through the wastewater treatment plant. More recently they drew samples from the remaining sludge and sent them for testing. Results will shed light on ammonia nutrient levels, heavy metals, and any contaminants, such as petroleum. Those test results were to have been received by Aug. 27, but were not in hand by Sept. 2, according to Public Works Director Alan Wilkins.

The results will be sent to the Washing-ton State Dept. of Ecology, which will render a decision on how the town is to dispose of the sludge after the lagoon’s liner is cleaned and properly discarded. “We’ll either be allowed to mix dirt and gravel into the sludge—which is what we want to do, costwise—or we’ll have to truck the sludge to La Conner’s compost facility,” said Wilkins.

Trucking the sludge will cost the town between $30,000 and $60,000, according to Wilkins’ estimates. Mixing dirt and rock into the sludge and then capping it should cost less than $20,000, he said.

After the lagoon is capped, the town plans to move its current stockpile site on Main St. down to the former lagoon site, freeing up the Main St. location for a planned public safety building.

Published in Concrete Herald, 9.5.12

The sewer lagoon for Town of Concrete is shown Aug. 31. Public Works has been drawing down the water in the lagoon and running it through the wastewater treatment plant (in background) in preparation for decommissioning the lagoon. (Click on image for larger view.)

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