|11/21/2012 2:52:00 PM|
Utility rates increases under consideration
It appears utility rates will going up in the city of Leavenworth next year. The Leavenworth City Council discussed the utility rates, along with other possible rate and fee increases for 2014 at the Nov. 13 study session.
City Administrator Joel Walinski said water rates are going up 6 percent, sewer rates 4 percent and garbage rates 5 percent. This will cost most city residents about $5.90 more on their utility bill. The rate increases are less for seniors and hardship seniors.
"These are the recommendations of the utility rate study. Last year, we tried to hold the line on a few areas," Walinski said. "This year, we are massaging those numbers. Basically, what we are trying to do is have those funds solvent, by state law, to cover operational and capital improvement charges."
Councilman Elmer Larsen expressed concern the utility rates are becoming too much. He remembers when rates were $12. Now, the base rate is up to $125.
"It has been a steady climb. It is approaching a quarter of somebody's rent. It is getting to be a lot," Larsen said. "I realize we need to continue to improve our system, but this is a hard time for some people. I don't like to see us take 6 percent when they aren't getting 2 percent in their salaries."
Councilman Michael Molohon said everybody is in the same boat. City residents just have to suck it up and pay it, he said.
"What are you going to do, not raise the money we need?" Molohon said.
The increases are generally funding the capital improvements system wide, said Chantell Steiner, city finance director. She pointed out the Front Street project alone took $300,000 from the water fund.
"We do have to look at these rates being increased," Steiner said. "It is mostly to cover capital improvements and maintenance costs."
Larsen said these increases are painful for people, and the city should be raising the rates by the absolute minimum.
The cash flow and fund balances are increasing ever so slightly, Walinski said. The garbage fund is expected to decrease and stabilize over time. The balances for water and sewer are expected to do the same.
"In the sewer, we wanted that to increase a bit, because we know in 2020, we need major capital improvements on the facility plant to cover the phosphorus issue," Walinski said.
Restaurant hook up fees
The restaurant utility hook up fee is currently charged on a per seat basis. Walinski said a restaurant could open with 10 seats, but may later expand to 25 seats. There is no way for the city to know, he said. It does not require a permit to go from 10 to 20 seats.
There is a compliance issue that needs to be addressed, he said. A different fee system is being proposed. Restaurants would be divided into three categories.
"Category one is more like an ice cream or yogurt shop," he said. "Category two is the minute you have a fryer, dishwashers, public restrooms. That is up to 1,000 square feet. Category three is once you want to expand beyond 1,000 square feet. For every 1,000 feet beyond, there are new costs."
Other fees would apply to bakeries, retail and bars.
This approach is based on a similar system in use in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Pet license fees
Walinski said they are considering increasing the charges for pet licenses to offset the cost of contracting with the Humane Society. But, over the past couple years with the economy in the dumps, he said people are not getting their pet licenses.
"These revenues have really decreased over the past couple years," he said.
Parking permits and citations
City officials are considering issuing city citation for parking, rather than relying on Chelan County Sheriff's deputies to do the job. Walinski said this type of civil infraction currently goes through the county.
"We can collect those fees as opposed to the county collecting those fees. There are other ways to enforce parking than civil citations," he said. "Republic Parking just issues a collection. That might be better for us in the long run."
Liquor license fees
Establishments in town that serve alcohol may have to pay an additional fee in order to offset the cost of the Merchant Patrol. It could be a $25 additional charge, which would raise around $5,000.
Mayor Cheri Kelley Farivar said there are now over 20 tasting rooms in town, which also contributes to the need for Merchant Patrol.
"There are a lot of people that comment there are a lot of drunk people here, and they don't want to be in town," said Councilman Tibor Lak. "Some people say they are leaving and not coming back because of the alcohol issue. These are people on vacation, summertime, mid-afternoon."
Even though there is not a wine walk every weekend, Farivar said it is starting to feel like there is one every weekend.
"This is a place to start to fund Merchant Patrol, which we like and want to keep," Farivar said. "If we ask for voluntary compliance, then it makes those than contribute pay more and that makes them angry. This is probably the best way."
Ian Dunn can be reached at 548-5286 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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