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City officials worried about cutting water rates, propose 'hybrid' to drop base and consumption rates

Bonney Lake water customers may find themselves a little more liquid this summer as the City Council this week considered a measure to reduce the city's base water rate.

But the savings may not be as much as originally proposed, as administration officials balked at the idea of reducing the base rate by $5, as proposed during the May 1 workshop.

A new proposal lowering the base rate by $2.69 per month - making the base rate $14 per month for residents — with additional adjustments to the summer sprinkling rates.

The idea to drop the rate was proposed by Mayor Neil Johnson at the beginning of a scheduled discussion on removing the additional summertime increase on water consumption.

As stated in the ordinance, the original purpose of the consumption charge was to encourage conservation of the city's water supply, but an increase in supply has made that unnecessary and the city wishes to encourage residents to keep their lawns greener during the summer season.

But Johnson said he was thinking it would be more fair to reduce everyone's charge while still giving residents the option to save money by reducing their watering, or to keep their lawns green.

"I think we should just give something back on the base rate," he said, adding the water utility had a fund balance of approximately $14 million.

Presently, the base rate for water in Bonney Lake is $16.69 plus $1.16 per 100 cubic feet (CCF) up to 10 CCF and $2.29 per CCF more than 10. In the summer, the consumption rate jumps to $3.92 per CCF more than 10.

The City Council immediately jumped on the idea of lowering the base rate while maintaining the consumption charges as passed.

Councilman Jim Rackley said he preferred to lower the base rate instead of consumption because the tiered rate system was designed to promote conservation of resources.

"It was to reduce consumption during that period," he said, adding that an increase in consumption means the city must buy water sooner when residents go through the city's available sources.

But according to City Administrator Don Morrison, the drop of $5 per month would cost the city $64,555 per month or approximately $774,000 per year. Morrison said he disagreed with the decision to lower the base rate instead of consumption charges because the base rate is the only money in the equation that is guaranteed, while the consumption rate varies.

But because the water utility has such a large fund balance, the council did not seem to oppose the proposal and moved it forward with the $5 drop.

Behind the scenes, however, city officials worried about the drop in revenue and a second proposal was developed to bring forward at the council's May 8 meeting.

Morrison called the new ordinance a "hybrid" or the two plans discussed the prior week, with a smaller reduction in rate and the addition of two more tiers to the summer watering rates.

If approved, the summer usage rate for between 11 and 20 CCF would drop to $2.50. It would jump to $3.50 per CCF for 21 to 30 and then max out at $4.50 per CCF for usage above 31.

"The original goal was to reduce summer sprinkling charges because they were pretty steep," Morrison said Monday. "I think it's a good compromise."

Though the council is set to consider the ordinance Tuesday, it is different from the one discussed during the workshop. In the past substantial changes to an ordinance have led to it being tabled for further discussion.

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