In Our Opinion: Options for controlling utility rates likely limited

  • Friday, February 21, 2020 1:42pm
  • Opinion

Oak Harbor council members didn’t adopt a plan to raise city utility rates precipitously over the next three years.

Instead, the members decided to explore what options they might have to control the rate increases that are predicted to be necessary to keep the sewage treatment, water, stormwater and solid waste funds solvent.

The estimated total utility rates for the average home was projected to increase from about $185 last year to $222 in 2022. Increases in the sewage rate would have the greatest impact on the rate hike.

It’s definitely a good idea for the elected officials to look closely at the costs and predictions, but options are limited. After all, if there were realistic options that would curb costs, wouldn’t it have been the staff’s and the council’s job to already know about it and have explored those options?

There are likely to be ways to “kick the can down the road” when it comes to capital improvements. That might help control rates in the short term, but it’s usually bad policy.

The new sewage treatment plant, for example, recently released thousands of dollars of untreated, icky water into Puget Sound when it became inundated with rainwater, which is largely due to leaky sewage pipes and cross connections with the stormwater system. Pushing back the city’s systematic plan for replacing the lines would increase the likelihood of spills in the future.

It’s ridiculous to have a state-of-the-art treatment plant with supporting infrastructure that failing.

The city could cut costs by doing away with recycling — which continues to grow in expense — but that’s obviously not environmentally responsible. And it would mean an increase in stuff going to the landfill.

The city’s best bet for controlling rates is that an agreement be reached with the Navy to hook the Seaplane Base’s sewage lines into the new treatment plant.

Hopefully a fair and equitable contract can be figured out that will result in lower rates for city residents and convenient sewage treatment for the Navy.

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