The last time Millwood City Hall announced a utility rate increase, areas like Liberty Lake and Spokane Valley were still part of a sprawling patch of land known as unincorporated Spokane County.
It has been since the mid-1990s since Millwood residents paid more for sewer and water service, but if all goes as anticipated at the Dec. 6 City Council meeting, that will change to the tune of $8.05 a month. According to City Clerk Tom Richardson, the 18-percent increase is simply a matter of keeping up with “costs that have been going up in other areas like treatment and staffing.”
The absence of an increase – residents last saw an adjustment in sewer rates in 1993 and water in 1995 – has meant a steady depletion in the municipal utility’s cash reserves. Under the latest proposal, the monthly water rate would go from $30 to $35.40, while the sewer rate would jump from $14.70 to $17.35.
The rate hikes were discussed at a budget workshop on Oct. 26 and a public hearing on the city budget Nov. 1. Longtime Millwood resident Bobbie Beese said the increases “make sense to anyone who has looked at the numbers.”
“No one’s going to like it, but it’s really clear that it’s necessary,” she said. “I think it all depends on the way it is explained.”
City Council Member Glenn Bailey, who has served on the town’s governing board for the past 20 years, said citizens should be aware that the additional revenue will go strictly to fund the city-run utility, not the Millwood general fund.
“I’m hoping residents will be supportive of it,” Bailey said. “I don’t think there’s anyone out there who thinks this is about making a lot of money for the city – it’s about meeting the obligations for providing water and sewer service.”
Richardson said the sewer rate adjustments will generate around $54,000 annually while the change in water charges will raise about half that. That would put the city on pace to pay off its bond in four years, at which time Richardson said capital projects such as replacing wells and painting tanks would likely be a budget priority.
Prior to signing on with Spokane County for sewer treatment in the 1990s, Millwood operated its own facility on the west side of Argonne Road. The city is expected to join other jurisdictions in contracting with a new county treatment site currently under construction.
Millwood residents also saw an increase to their power bills last year through Avista Utilities. The rate hike translated into some $60,000 for the city budget based on a 6-percent utility tax levied on citizens since 2003.
While neighboring cities like Liberty Lake will institute tax increases for 2011 to counteract a severe dip in sales tax revenue, Richardson said Millwood has been fortunate to weather the economic storm based on a steady retail environment. The city was one of the few municipalities in Washington to see sales tax revenue go up last year.
An affirmative council vote on the utility rate shift next month would mean residents receiving notice of the change in their December water bills, Richardson said. The increase would show up on the charge for January.