1. Infrastructure The City has three wells. Of the three, one no longer works because of geological shifts in which the well casing bent. It can not be used any longer. The second well while it is still working has a bending shaft and a third party engineer recommended we plan for replacing it. The City was awarded significant grants. However, the grants require a local match and the grants are currently held up in the State Capital Budget Impasse. It is estimated that each well will cost around $3 million a piece due to engineering, installation of a looped water line, and digging two wells at a significant depth. The water and sewer rates underwent a deep analysis by a third party financial consultant who recommended rates which would sustainably take care of known infrastructure issues in the near future. Additionally, the Department of Ecology is putting additional requirements on the city when its new wastewater permit is issued in 2019. This will demand additional millions be invested into improving the wastewater treatment plant. Utility rates pay the operation, maintenance, and capital needs of utility systems (water, sewer, etc).
2. Operations Both the City water and wastewater utilities were operating at a deficit for several years. The City undertook utility rate studies conducted by FCS group to get the utilities on a sustainable trajectory so we can make needed improvements to the utility systems while keeping the rates as affordable as possible.
3. Staffing The City over the last decade has significantly cut back on staffing to balance budgets from 2008 count of 54 FTE to a 2017 count of 34. Meanwhile, the City has grown over 10% during this time from 8,600 to 9,440 individuals.
The City Council decided to adopt a utility tax on its water and wastewater utilities of 10% a piece. This is still a lower percentage than what many surrounding municipalities charge including Walla Walla, Kennewick, Richland, West Richland, Othello, and Toppenish. The City held multiple meetings on this potential revenue stream during its 2018 budgeting process which went from July to December of 2017. A utility tax is not a utility rate. It is just like a sales tax you pay to purchase goods. The revenue obtained from this tax can be used for any general government function. As stated throughout the city's Budget 2018 process, the revenue obtained from this tax is being used to reinstate two police officers, one fire training officer, and one community development assistant position which used to exist. Please view the MRSC webpage on how the utility tax is calculated.
In summary, utility bills which were recently mailed out are higher because of two reasons:
1. Higher utility rates: Rates needed to be increased to stop running deficits in the respective utility funds and to make the needed improvements including the construction of two new wells to replace two wells that suffer from geologic shift damage.
2. Utility Tax of 10%: Utility tax on utility bill obtain funds to reinstate two police officers, one fire training officer, and one community development technician position.