Jim Woessner

Jim Woessner

To nobody’s surprise, city’s sewer rates on the high end

Due to low-interest-rate loans, Oak Harbor’s projected sewer rates aren’t going to increase despite the estimated cost of the new sewage treatment plant ballooning by $20 million, according to city staff.

Nevertheless, the rates are on the high end — no matter how one looks at it — but are far from being outlandish.

“We have the highest sewer rates of any city in this area,” Councilman Jim Woessner said at a recent meeting during a discussion about the increased cost of the project — from $122 million to $142 million.

Woessner and other council members expressed concern that city staff hadn’t kept elected officials apprised of the increased cost.

Councilman Rick Almberg pointed out that the new plant will be a state-of-the-art facility — employing membrane bioreactor, or MBR, technology — and will serve the city for 50 years. Other communities will need to update their plants in years to come, he said.

The city’s current monthly sewage rate is $102.

A 2016 survey by the state Department of Ecology shows that rates vary widely within the state, from $157 a month in North Bend to less than $22 in Winthrop.

The rates at four cities closest in size to Oak Harbor show this range. The monthly residential rate in Maple Valley, which is served by Soos Creek Water Sewer District, is $36.06. Ratepayers in Kenmore, served by Northshore Utility District, is $59.30 a month.

The city of Mukilteo, served by Mukilteo Water and Wastewater District, is $40.69 a month.

A household that uses 1,000 cubic feet of water a month — the national average for a family of four — in the City of Bainbridge Island will be charged $115.49.

Oak Harbor’s rates are similar to other cities that have MBR plants. Lake Stevens charges $86 while Blaine’s rate is $100.98 a month.

Oak Harbor’s sewer rates have grown precipitously in recent years to pay for the new plant. They were at $64.75 a month in 2016.

The increase will continue for a few years. The current projected rate for 2021 is $110.08, according to City Administrator Doug Merriman.

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