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Rate hikes on the way in Buckley

Pausing during her Christmas break to comment on the attention-grabbing rise in utility rates for the coming year, Buckley Mayor Patricia Johnson shot straight from the hip and put it all on the line.

“It is time that this city became more fiscally responsible,” she said. “In the past we have paid the bills and covered the operating costs of running the city, but we haven't been putting aside money for specific projects and we were constantly raiding from accounts that we had put aside for future projects and so forth. I would like to start seeing the utilities pay for themselves.

“That is why we have to raise the storm drain rates 42 percent in 2007,” the mayor said.

“This is not going to be good news to Buckley folks,” she continued. “We are certainly cognizant of that. However, maybe if we would have gradually raised the utility rates a dozen years ago and saved up the subsequent income from these lower rate hikes, we would have had existing funds for these projects, which we knew were on the horizon. Then the rate hikes wouldn't have had to have be so dramatic now.

“Something has to be done in the upcoming years about the aging infrastructure of this city,” she said. “We've got water lines in the ground below us that were placed in the 1920s and gas lines that were put in the ground in the 1960s.”

Of particular concern are the city's storm drains. “Right now we don't have the money in reserve to pay for those repairs,” Johnson said. “Furthermore, I do not wish to strap the citizens of Buckley by taking out loans that we will eventually have to ask for their help to pay back.”

Johnson said she appreciates the hundreds of extra hours the current group of City Council members have put toward coming up with solutions to the plethora of utility headaches that have piled up.

“I really am indebted to this group of people, because in lieu of sidestepping the problems that have been thrown at them this past year, they have really stepped up to the plate and put in the time to find some meaningful answers to these tough questions, instead of simply passing the hot potato to the next group of City Council people to solve.”

The mayor gave an example of what she was alluding to when she said, “I don't even want to think about what the cost is going to be to replace the six miles of pipe, a couple of years down the road, that runs from South Prairie Creek, where the city gets most of its water from. I am thinking there are going to be a lot of zeros (millions) involved though, and that's if the EPA allows us to rebuild it the way we have planned to do it.”

Some of that expenditure will be passed along to Buckley utility rate payers, because beginning Jan. 1 of this new year, water rates will increase by 27 percent. The city intends for each utility to pay its own way and for rates collected from users to pay the cost of operating and maintaining the system.

The raise in water rates is only the tip of the iceberg. There will likely be a great deal of shuffling of Buckley family budgets to account for the rapidly approaching rate hikes in curbside garbage and recycling pick-up of 7 percent; an increase in the natural gas rate of 27 percent; and a big jump in sewer rates, which will climb 56% overall to help defray the ever-rising construction costs associated with the new wastewater treatment plant, which the mayor conjectured would still be 14 to 16 months away from being usable.

Finally, the city will be implementing a 3 percent annual utility rate hike across the board to ensure that it doesn't make the same mistake it made in the past.

John Leggett can be reached at jleggett@courierherald.com.

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