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City plans to raise utility rates

"Port Orchard residents pay much less for utilities than anyone else in Kitsap County.Better still, even though the city plans to raise utility rates about 11 percent,--the subject of a public hearing during the City Council meeting next Monday at 7:30 p.m.--water and sewer customers within the city limits will still foot the smallest utility bills in the county.“We’re the best deal in town,” said City Councilman John Clauson, chairman of the council’s Water, Sewer, Solid Waste and Health Committee.According to a recent water and sewer rate study, a single-family dwelling within city limits currently spends about $34.47 in utilities a month. That’s $14.47 for water and $20 for sewer. Port Orchard also provides water and sewer services to McCormick Woods residents. A typical home there uses $51.71 worth of the service a month, which represents the median of all typical utility bills in the county.Bainbridge Island residents, on the other hand, pay a whopping $75.58 a month for water and sewer services. Bremerton isn’t too far behind at $64.90.Proposed rate hikes won’t do much to change the relative status of utility bills in Port Orchard and McCormick Woods. Suggested increases would raise rates from $34.47 to $38.72 for Port Orchard residents, which means an 11 percent increase. Likewise, for McCormick Woods, rates would jump 11 percent, from $51.71 to $58.08. Assuming that utility rates will remain the same elsewhere throughout the county, Port Orchard and McCormick Woods residents won’t shift positions on the county’s utility-bill scale. Port Orchard would still be the cheapest service provider for water and sewer services, city engineer Larry Curles confirmed.Rate increases for Port Orchard utilities would accomodate the increasing costs of operating the water and sewer system, as well as providing for repairs and upgrades until 2006.The last water and sewer rate hikes came in August 1997 and January of this year, respectively. City officials say rates are examined on a regular basis.Still, with the overwhelming passage of Initiative 695, officials are looking more earnestly than ever at raising utility rates.“In reality, we’ve been looking at rate adjustments for a while,” Clauson explained. “Of course, the passage of I-695 has put a bit of urgency to it.”But, Clauson cautioned, the city action isn’t solely a reaction to the initiative. “If that was the case, then rates would be jacked up as high as we could get away with,” he said. Plus, a comparison of utility rates across the county doesn’t reflect such an intent, he said.City officials, however, are worried about the next time rates need adjustments because of inflation, or increasing costs associated with the upkeep of water and sewer services. That’s because one portion of I-695 calls for tax and fee increases only when voters approve them.“I am concerned about the costs associated with putting such issues on the ballot,” Clauson noted.However, elected officials across the county remain optimistic that clause within the initiative will be ruled out in the courts.“I’ve given up on predictions,” Clauson noted. “But I’ve been told there’s a good chance that portion of the initiative won’t hold up in court because it goes against” the representative form of government.Also on the rise will be city water and sewer intstallation fees, as well as the sewer connection fee. Different from basic water and sewer rates, these fees provide revenue sources for capital projects necessary to compliment growth over the next five years, such as new wells and resevoirs. McCormick Woods is expected to have the most growth. The only price tag associated with Port Orchard water and sewer service projected to stay the same is the city’s water connection fee. That will remain at $750. Sewer connection fees, however, are projected to go from $750 to $1,000 per dwelling unit. Currently, water and sewer installation fees are at $500 plus tax. Both would go to $750 plus tax.The item with the biggest ticket on the city’s capital project list is a new well for McCormick Woods, slated for construction in 2003. The cost is estimated at $130,000. Most projects entail upgrades on water mains, wells and resevoirs, as well as software and equipment upgrades."

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