Oak Harbor utility rate decision postponed

The decision that would determine the monthly rate Oak Harbor residents would pay for city-provided utilities over the next four years has been postponed in light of the impacts the COVID-19 health crisis has had on residents.

Much of the rate increase is driven by unanticipated costs associated with the new sewage treatment plant, and in March the Oak Harbor City Council was provided with three different options that would determine how much the utility rates would increase.

During Tuesday’s teleconferenced meeting, the council added a new fourth option.

The first option looked at the utilities with capital improvement projects delayed a few years.

The second option would cancel plans to build an interpretive center in the sewage treatment plant as well as delay the projects. The third option would delay the capital improvement projects and delay the rate increases planned for 2020.

The new fourth option would mirror the second option with the removal of the interpretive center and include a transfer of stabilization funds from the general fund. Rate increases would begin in 2021.

In January, a city consultant presented the council with a proposal for keeping the self-sufficient utility funds solvent into the future. His plan was to increase the rates residents pay for wastewater treatment, water, stormwater and solid waste collection by about $50 over the next five years to a total of $233.41 a month, which would be a 24 percent increase.

The council, however, chose to explore ways to control the increase in rates.

Tuesday night, most of the debate centered around whether or not the rates should be increased during the pandemic. Council members gravitated toward option 4, which would not see a utility rate increase in 2020, but the cost of all the utilities together would increase by $17.85 a month in 2021. Option 2 was also given some consideration as it would have the largest impact in reducing the rate increase this year by $8.48.

Because of the current crisis, council members were wary of increasing the utility rates.

“This time right now does not seem like the time to saddle our small business owners struggling to survive or our citizenry with additional financial burdens,” Councilman Bill Larsen said.

“I don’t think it’s the best time to be adding a rate increase when so many people are suffering so many difficulties.”

Councilman Jeff Mack agreed.

“My constituents are hurting financially,” he said. “Residents are unemployed, worried about how to put food on the table, a roof overhead. Now I cannot be part of inflicting additional hardship and grief.”

Mayor Pro Tem Beth Munns said option 4 makes her nervous because it relies on stabilization funds from the general fund which is dependent on revenue.

“We don’t know what our revenue is going to be,” she said. “I would like to be sure we can keep everyone at the city that’s there now employed.”

Councilman Joel Servatius shared concerns about using stabilization funds but added that he would nonetheless support option 4.

“I still think option 2, while it does involve a rate increase,” Servatius said, “it tries to make it as minimal and as absorbable for any of our constituents.”

Councilman Jim Woessner said he was concerned about the lack of public participation during the meetings.

“When we first started the discussion we had several folks show up in the audience you know with questions,” Woessner said.

“And since then we have had several meetings involving this topic and we have yet to get any public comment other than the five letters that we received just recently.”

“I don’t know that all of the citizens of Oak Harbor know what’s going on right now,” he said. “I don’t know that they have as much access to us and they certainly don’t have access to attend a meeting like the folks we saw early on in these discussions.”

In the end the council decided to postpone the decision until the scheduled June 2 meeting.

To submit a public comment, visit oakharbor.org or call 360-279-4504 on the day of the meeting, after 5 p.m.

More in News

teaser
Port of Coupeville opts for survey instead of levy

Port leaders plan to ask the community how it wants two century-old buildings to be maintained.

Sister steals cat | Island Scanner

Island Scanner Nov. 11- 24.

Hospital, county prepping for COVID vaccine

Island County may be near the front of the line for new vaccines.

Hospice of the NW considers sale to a for-profit company

The hospice has been locally managed since 1989.

Help just in time for the holidays

Families who cannot afford gifts this holiday season have an island-wide resource.

Increasing call volume leads to shuffle in North End ambulance staffing

WhidbeyHealth will be operating an additional ambulance out of the five available in the North End.

Virtual meeting slated to discuss replacing 5 Oak Harbor schools

The Wednesday meeting is a time for the public to have a say in how the buildings will look.

Island school districts likely returning to remote learning

Increasing case numbers in the county have school officials considering a move to at-home learning.

Job numbers show county rebounding

Although the pandemic has hurt the local economy, unemployment numbers are gradually improving.

Most Read