Council accelerates water rate increases to pay for well repairs

The Port Orchard City Council approved an accelerated four-year schedule of increases in water rates that will start in 2012 and will cover the cost of major repairs needed to clear up water quality problems in the area of the city supplied by Well 9.

The vote was unanimous at Tuesday night's meeting to approve the plan that raises water rates by $4 a month in 2012, $4 a month in 2013, and an additional $2 a month each of the two years after that.

The city will install a special filtration system at Well 9 to remove hydrogen sulfides, which have been identified as a primary cause of brown water that residents in the area have experienced intermittently over the last few years. The other part of fixing the Well 9 water quality problems will involve sending special devices called "pigs" through the water distribution lines to scour out a buildup of manganese.

The project, which should be completed next summer, will cost about $1 million, and the council decided to pay for it out of a water/sewer reserve fund rather than getting a revenue bond that would have saddled the city with considerable interest costs.

That will draw the reserve fund down to about $750,000, which is only half the balance that the City Council's utilities committee would like to maintain in case other emergency repairs are needed.

Accelerating the water rate increases will allow the city to replenish the reserve fund sooner than would have been possible in the City Council's original plan to implement the higher rates on a "4/4/4" plan, with a $4 monthly increase every other year.

The higher water rates are needed to cover a significant shortfall in paying for water system operations and to pay for needed infrastructure upgrades.

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