Coupeville hikes sewer rates

"In the end, Coupeville Town Council members said it was the spectre of Initiative 695 that compelled them to unanimously raise the town’s sewer rates Tuesday night, two weeks after making the increases public and despite the objections of nine business owners and residents who asked them to think about it longer.Starting in late December, the seventh highest sewer rates in the state will go up: 1.3 cents more per cubic foot for residents and 1.7 cents more per cubic foot for commercial users. That translates to about a 27 percent increase, or $6.50 more a month for households with an average consumption of 490 cubic feet, and a 31 percent increase, or $14.40 more a month, for businesses using an average of 860 cubic feet, Coupevillle Clerk-Treasurer Anna Tamura said.The council approved the rate increase after nine residents and business owners stood up and entreated them to re-think raising rates, or try to find another way to raise the $2.3 million town engineers say they need to enlarge, rebuild and re-equip the town’s waste water treatment plant.Sue Hallen, owner of Coupeville’s Tyee Restaurant and Motel, questioned the disparity in rate increases —1.7 cents more for businesses, but 1.3 cents more for residents.“We pay about $800 a month for water and sewer now and we don’t get a break in winter months,” Hallen said. “... The commercial people are really bearing the brunt of the rate increase. I hope you would look at another way of raising rates.”“I’m opposed to the raise in sewer rates, said Coupeville resident Dan Currier. “What bothers me is that five years ago we had another rate increase. At the time it was supposed to be temporary, but it’s never gone down.” Councilmember Frank Tippets said he wonders whether the town’s method of assessing differing rates isn’t “arbitrary.’’ He suggested putting off the vote for two more weeks so the council could host a public workshop and study the rate increase a little longer.Others, though, said they felt under the gun to pass the ordinance before the state’s voters potentially pass Initiative 695 next Tuesday, even though no one on the city staff could say whether the initiative would take effect immediately, or later.The initiative, if it passes, would require governments to submit all tax and fee increases to the people.“If I-695 passes, we will have no latitude,” Councilmember Marshall Bronson said.Councilmember Sandra Sherwin compared the initiative to “a ticking time bomb” that was forcing the council to act quickly.Council members and town officials said during the meeting that they did not know for sure when I-695 would become law, but information they received from the Association of Washington’s Cities listed a variety of scenarios concerning when the initiative would take effect.The Web page for the Association of Washington Cities quotes the Washington State Constitution, Article II Section I, as stipulating that the effective date of initiatives is 30 days after passage. But the Web page also suggested “...a more cautious approach” for raising taxes and utilities.Meanwhile, David Brine, communications director for the Secretary of State’s Office, said Thursday that initiatives “become law essentially 30 days after the election.’’According to page 11 of the Washington State Voters Pamphlet, the initiative would go into effect Jan. 1, 2000.As it turned out, Tippets and the rest of the council voted for the rate increase with the provision that the council would revisit it no later than October 2000, or as early as practicable.The move didn’t satisfy Currier.“I’d like to see them have waited until they could have weighed more options,” Currier said. “What the city’s asking the citizens to do is cut back on their budgets and and make sacrifices in their lives. But I didn’t see the city making the same effort to see how they could have cut back on their own spending. Maybe they could have shared on the cutbacks.”Hallen said she left the meeting “very discouraged.”“I felt embarrassed and somewhat betrayed because I was told to come, and my voice could make a difference,” Hallen said. “And all along, it wouldn’t have made a difference because they had already made up their mind because of I-695.’’“I don’t feel comfortable or confident that, with the administration that we have in there now, we’re going to see any end to water and sewer increases,” Hallen said."

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