Sims says proposal is ‘sensitive’ to ratepayers Higher sewer rates next year?

King County Executive Ron Sims has proposed a sewer rate increase that he said would soften the economic impact on ratepayers who already “are feeling the pinch.”

King County Executive Ron Sims has proposed a sewer rate increase that he said would soften the economic impact on ratepayers who already “are feeling the pinch.”

In his proposal to the County Council, whose members will make the final decision, Sims called for a monthly wholesale sewer rate in 2009 of $30.20 – an 8 percent increase over the current rate of $27.95 that took effect in 2007. The proposed monthly rate increase of $2.25 is significantly less than the increase forecast in the 2008 adopted budget, which would have put rates at $32.97, Sims said.

The proposed capacity charge paid by new customers connecting to county-administered sewer service, in addition to their monthly sewer bill, would increase by 3 percent to $47.64 per month.

The proposals are only for next year. The rates could be adjusted as necessary in subsequent years, Sims said.

He said the increases are necessary to help pay for sewer improvement projects.

“We can’t afford inaction. Neglecting our infrastructure could mean sewage overflows, fines and a possible building moratorium across much of the central Puget Sound region, and that’s just not acceptable,” he said.

The county’s wastewater division serves 17 cities, 17 sewer districts and more than 1.4 million residents of King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.

That includes the city of Black Diamond and Soos Creek Water and Sewer District, which includes the Covington area.

The Cedar River Water and Sewer District also is part of the county network. The district’s service area includes the Maple Valley area, which gets water service only.

TIn 2002, King County signed an agreement with the Soos Creek district to build and operate three regional pump stations and 10 miles of sewer lines.

When the cost of a Covington pump station and pipeline turned out to be significantly higher than anticipated, the county explored alternatives and decided that the most critical need for short-term capacity is in Black Diamond. Plans call for building a wastewater storage facility there by 2010.

Wastewater from Black Diamond homes and businesses is collected by the city’s local sewer system and sent to the county’s treatment plant in Renton through a network of pipelines and pump stations operated by the county and Soos Creek Water and Sewer.

The county plans to build additional regional pump stations and pipelines between Black Diamond and Kent by 2020.

Sims said the new rates will be spread over several years in order to “guard against dramatic rate spikes in the future.”

“I am very sensitive to concerns about asking ratepayers for more money when so many people are feeling the pinch of a slowing economy,” he said.

According to county officials, the biggest factor in the proposed 2009 sewer rates is the largest expansion of the wastewater utility system since the 1960s. Work currently underway includes the Brightwater treatment system, which is expected to comprise about 75 percent of the wastewater capital spending over the next three years. The Brightwater price tag has increased over the past year by $34.9 million, putting total cost of the project at $1.8 billion.

Sims said economic turmoil in municipal bond markets has significantly increased the cost of borrowing to fund new construction. In addition, projects are affected by rising prices of diesel fuel, concrete, chemicals and steel.

He said his proposal includes the elimination of more than $66 million in wastewater expenses between 2008 and 2010 by deferring non-critical projects to future years after Brightwater’s completion. It also includes reductions in other lower-priority programs and using existing personnel to operate the new Carnation and Brightwater plants.

Sims proposed a single-year rate for 2009, instead of a multi-year rate. That allows for adjustments next year in case economic conditions “change significantly or we experience schedule delays of larger projects,” he said. “My proposal comes with the pledge to continue diligently working at reducing the rate increases projected for 2010 and beyond.”

The sewer rate “is an investment” for clean water “you can swim in, a healthy environment for our children to enjoy, and a continued quality of life that makes our region an attractive destination to live, work and play,” Sims said.