City considers sewer rate increases
The public will be invited to weigh in next week on a proposal to raise utility rates 9.5 percent over the next three years.
The administration’s proposal is tied to an update of the Sanitary Sewer Comprehensive Plan – an element of the city’s Comprehensive Plan – that the state requires to be updated on a regular basis.
According to Public Works Director Phil Williams, because Edmonds is largely built out, issues affecting the sewage treatment system largely relate to aging infrastructure, the system’s current capacity in relation to current and future population, the problem of root intrusion in pipes, and of infiltration and inflow – that is, water flowing into the system because of broken or damaged pipes or from unauthorized discharges of storm water.
The overall system is a big-ticket operation. There are 3,200 manholes and nearly 670,000 miles of sanitary sewer pipe. There also are 14 lift stations, 10 flow meters, and one wastewater treatment plant that has three primary clarifiers, three aeration basins, three secondary clarifiers and an incinerator.
And much of the system is old. According to Utilities Engineer Mike Delilla, who made a presentation to the Planning Board this summer, most of the system's pipes were laid in the 1950s or earlier, with some as old as the 1920s.
Most of them are concrete – the preferred material in those days – and it is cracking, breaking, and decaying from the highly toxic effluent that travels through them. (That spicy meal didn’t only upset your stomach!)
There also needs to be regular maintenance and repairs at the treatment plant and in other systems, Williams told the council Tuesday.
“Sewage is quite corrosive,” he said. “There are lots of issues; we’re finding them by the scores.
“This is what happens when you have really old pipes.”
And all of it is maintained through user rates.
According to Williams, the city hasn’t had a sewer rate increase since 2003-04 and, in fact, actually lowered rates in 2006.
Consequently, it has largely depended on borrowing money on a regular basis through bond sales to fund capital projects. That ties up money for bond payments that otherwise could be used for maintenance, capital projects and other upgrades.
The administration is proposing that a series of small rate increases over the next three years should be implemented to wean the city off the borrow-and-spend system, which isn’t fiscally sound.
When compared to other cities, Edmonds’ rates are low. In fact, a list of about a dozen cities along Puget Sound showed Edmonds’ monthly sewer rate is second from the bottom.
Williams said if the council approved the proposed increases, Edmonds would remain near the bottom. And combining rates for all three utilities – water, stormwater, and sewer – Edmonds would still be third from the bottom, he said.
For example, ratepayers in Seattle pay about $200 for all three utilities; in Edmonds, it’s $81.
Councilmember Diane Buckshnis supported the proposal.
“I don’t support tying up future city councils for the next 100 years with bond payments,” she said.
She suggested the council could always reduce rates again “if we don’t like it and get too many complaints.”