Town sewer plant fix forces rates up

"Sewer rates in Coupeville, already the seventh highest in the state, will go up 29 percent for residents and 33 percent for businesses if the Town Council adopts a rate hike proposed this week. If approved by the council at its next meeting Oct. 25, the rate increase would go into effect in December and be reflected in Feb.1 bills. Water rates would not be affected.The money will be used to pay for the first phase of construction of the town’s planned $2.3 million waste water treatment plant expansion. Phase I would pay for $1.1 million of the project and include design of the system, an additional pump, stand-by generator and an additional settling tank to better collect and treat the organic waste.Enlarging and improving the plant is not optional for Coupeville.According to projections in the town’s Comprehensive Plan and requirements from the Department of Ecology, Coupeville’s waste water treatment plant needs to be considerably upgraded.The problems associated with the system include more than 10 miles of aging sewer pipes (first installed in 1935) and a 40-year-old treatment plant designed to serve a population of 1,500.Coupeville’s population now exceeds 1,580. During rainy, winter months, the capacity of the the plant to handle waste water and infiltrating rainwater sometimes exceeds limits set by the Department of the Ecology.“The plant’s designed to handle 250,000 gallons of waste water per day,” Coupeville Public Works Director Larry Harmon said. “And the permit says if we exceed 85 percent of that for three months, we have to do an engineering report or facilities plan.”That happened in four consecutive months during the winter of 1996-’97, which spurred planning for a refurbished waste water plant.During discussion of rate hike at Tuesday’s Coupeville Town Council meeting, Mayor Nancy Conard there was incentive to adopt the increase soon. “We want to adopt the new fees by October because of I-695,” Conard said, voicing concerns that fee increases could be problem if the motor vehicle excise tax initiative passes. If passed, Initiative 695 would require voter approval for tax increases or any monetary charge by a governmental agency.Another incentive for adopting the plan revolves around getting help to pay for it, said Harmon.“We need to start on the design immediately to start applying for grants in early spring of 2000,” Harmon said. “That’s so we could compete for any grant or loan assistance we could get from the Department of Ecology or any other agency that can provide money for these things.”Harmon said if the increase is approved, design for the plant would begin immediately and construction could start in the latter part of the new year. Construction would take eight about eight months.Some of the cost of Phase 1 could be defrayed if the town succeeds in getting grants to help pay for it. If so, rates could eventually be lowered, Conard said. There could also be a “sunset” to the rate increase — a time when the rate hike is phased out — added councilman Kermit Chamberlain. Coupeville resident and former mayor Will Jones suggested the council include the “sunset feature” in the ordinance before they voted on it.His suggestion did not seem to arouse much interest among council members.As it stands now, the Town of Coupeville plans to pay for the design phase of a new waste water treatment plan with a five-year loan and grants and low-interest funding. If the town is successful pinning down grant and/or loan money, that might even help pay for part of Phase II, projected to cost $1,304,500. Phase II includes installing ultraviolet lamps for treatment of organic waste and an additional treatment stage known as an oxidation ditch.Grants would also allow the town to begin construction on these improvement earlier and defer a rate increase to a later date. Coupeville Public Works Director Larry Harmon said the current proposed rate hike will pay only for Phase I. “If we were successful in getting a good grant or loan package that is feasible, it might be possible to cover part of Phase II, or all of it,” Harmon said.And if grants are not available? “If Coupeville is unable to get sufficient loans or grants to pay for Phase II, the rates would go up again,” Harmon said.“We’re not striving to be number one in the state for water and sewer rates,” Conard said at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting.According to the 1999 Association of Washington Cities Tax and User Fee Survey, Coupeville currently has the state’s seventh highest single-family sewer rates. "

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