Another new year, another boost in water and sewer rates coming for customers being served by the city of Bingen.
For the seventh consecutive year, the Bingen City Council has voted to approve increases in the cost of its water and sewer services.
On Nov. 1, the council voted 5-0 to hike residential water rates by an additional $1 per month, and to also boost sewer rates by another $1 per month.
With the changes, the base rate for residential water service will go from $21 to $22, with the cost of sewer service going from $33 to $34.
The cost for water service to commercial buildings will go from $37 to $39. For light industry/agriculture, the water bills will go up from $112 to $117, and for heavy industrial customers it will jump from $372 to $390.
The base rate includes 6,000 gallons per month.
The increases will be effective with the Jan. 1, 2006, billing.
The city's budget committee proposed the increases in rates as a way to help maintain the capital fund, which goes for infrastructure repair and improvements.
"Our capital replacement funds are going down, and we need to pick it up," explained council member Randy Anderson. "There is a lot to be done. This isn't going to do it either."
Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel noted that water and sewer rates have been going up regularly, but explained that the increases are important to help the city rebuild its reserve account.
"We haven't skipped a year since about 1999," Prigel said. "We're trying to keep rates as low as we can, but still recover our operations and maintenance costs and still maintain a reserve fund for capital replacement. We depleted quite a bit of our reserve fund for our well rehabilitation projects."
Prigel said the city has three substantial public works projects that need to be taken care of within the next two to five years, including:
Replacing the city's chlorination system;
Cleaning and maintaining the city's 250,000-gallon steel; and
Replacing a two-inch water line coming down the south side of SR 141.
"That line leaks on a regular basis, and one of these days it's going to burst," Prigel said. "We have to dig it up for repair about once a year."
Prigel said the line serves about 10 homes in Bingen, and several more in White Salmon.
Bingen City Clerk Jan Brending pointed out that even with the increases, the city's rates are relatively low.
"We've typically had lower than average water service rates compared to other communities in Klickitat County," Brending said. She explained that White Salmon's water customers pay $41 per month, while the cost is $26.17 per month in Goldendale and $43.26 a month in Klickitat.
"We have an aging system, and have to figure out how to pay for it. There are not enough grants and loans to cover it," Brending added. "There will probably be more than another $1 increase in 2007."
According to Brending, the water-sewer rate increases will bring the city an estimated $12,298 in additional revenue.
The city of Bingen also approved a one percent property tax hike last week, which will bring the city an added $1,579.
That increase, also approved 5-0 by the council, is effective Jan. 1.
"With the increases we're going to be proposing in the Fire Department budget, it's clear we're going to need that money," said Brending.
The City Council also voted to approve a 20 percent discount in the base water/sewer rates for low-income seniors and low-income disabled residents. Eligibility for the discounts is based on federal poverty level guidelines.
"I'm adamant about helping our low-income citizens. I'd like to see a 20 percent discount," said council member Barbara Hylton.
Linda Schneider, executive director of Gorge Action Programs, said recent jumps in the costs of energy are frightening some local residents.
"With everything that's going on, it's hard to know what's going to happen," Schneider said. "People are more fearful than I've ever seen about being able to heat their homes this winter."
Schneider added that she appreciated the discounts for low-income residents.
"When you're living on $339 a month and paying rent, and with gasoline prices and utilities going up, even a dollar can make a difference," Schneider explained. "I think it's wonderful the city is willing to take a look at helping."
Prigel said the city had not heard any complaints about the planned increases in local water and sewer rates.
"I suspect many people look up the hill to see White Salmon's water rates, and feel lucky with what ours are," he explained.