News

Oak Harbor water rates set to rise

"The cost of standing in the shower in Oak Harbor is likely to go up again, even with entanglements laid in place by Initiative 695.But there's also some good news on the horizon for those who like to flush the toilet without feeling a tinge of financial guilt. Oak Harbor Interim City Finance Director Doug Merriman said he will introduce a proposed 4.13 percent water rate increase to the Oak Harbor City Council Tuesday. The city is passing on the increase from Anacortes, which sells water wholesale to Oak Harbor.The city first received the rate increase April 1, but put off increasing customer rates because of I-695, which requires government bodies to get a vote of the people before raising any taxes. Since then, I-695 has been declared unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge. The state Supreme Court is due to make a final decision on the initiative in November.On advice of legal counsel, Merriman said he's decided to push forward with the increase now in anticipation that the high court will invalidate at least part of the initiative. If we don't pass increases, in a short time we will bankrupt our utilities, he said.Anacortes City Clerk George Khtaian said he adjusts the water rates annually for all the water wholesale customers, which includes Oak Harbor, LaConner, the public utility district, the Swinomish tribe and two refineries. Anacortes owns water rights on the Skagit River and pipes the water along Highway 20 to Fidalgo and Whidbey.The across-the-board 4.13 percent rate increase results from the expense of fixing and replacing pumps at the water treatment plant on the Skagit River.The good news, Khtaian said, is that a consultant for Anacortes recently completed a water rate study that looks down the road three years and concludes that there will be no need to increase the water rate to finance building and repair projects in the next three years.Oak Harbor residents may remember in March of 1998 when water rates increased 43 percent in order to pay for some major construction on the water pipeline. The city still pays $32,970 a month for construction and upkeep costs, but Khtaian said capital rates absolutely will not increase for three years.---------You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611. "

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