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Utility rates ready to rise

A proposed increase in utility charges for Oak Harbor residents would amount to an aggregate 3.55 percent hike in water, sewer and storm drain rates.

The good news is that the city will get access to millions and millions of additional gallons of water under a new agreement with Anacortes.

Members of the City Council recently attended a workshop to discuss a cost of living increase, or COLA, for city utilities. It’s been three years since the last comprehensive rate increase for city-owned utilities.

Next Tuesday, the council’s agenda includes an introduction for the rate inflation, but they won’t vote on the matter until later — probably the March 7 meeting.

According to Finance Director Doug Merriman, the rate structure for water requires a 3.9 percent increase to absorb a small rate increase from Anacortes and the inflationary effect of the city’s operating costs.

Oak Harbor buys water from Anacortes, which owns water rights on the Skagit River. The water is piped from the Burlington treatment plant, along Highway 20 and under Deception Pass bridge, to Oak Harbor.

At the last council meeting, Merriman said the new agreement between Anacortes and the other users — which includes oil refineries — increases the charges for those who use more water than the “committed capacity.” To ensure the city doesn’t fall into that category, he negotiated an increase in the committed water volume to one billion gallons a year, an increase of 30 million gallons.

Merriman said this is good for Oak Harbor because the city isn’t a water hog. “The change has the effect of potentially lowering our rates to a small degree,” he said.

Also, Merriman proposed increasing sewer rates by 3.82 percent and raising storm drains charges from $4.81 per month to $5.44 per month.

The agenda bill states that staff is not recommending increases in solid waste charges at this time, but they may in the future. Increased methane gas levels at the old landfill and changes in the recycling program may require additional funding.

Merriman figured that the utility increases would amount to less than $8 extra for the typical utility bill, from $173.96 to $180.13 per bill. Each bill covers a two-month period.

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