The Kelso City Council on Tuesday supported a roughly 4% annual utility rate hike for single family residences each year from 2020 to 2024.

The increases are intended to fully fund the city’s five-year $6.8 million capital improvement program, which includes major projects related to the city’s water supply beginning in 2021.

The result is the average single family residence would have an annual increase of between about $4 and $6 a month over the next five years. In total, the average utility bill would increase a little more than $26 by 2024.

“It always blows to have rates raised,” Councilman David Futcher said. “(But) we don’t just decide to do these projects for no reason. And not doing them does not remove the need to do them. So we don’t have much of an alternative but to follow the recommendation.”

Consultant FCS Group on Tuesday recommended annual increases of 7% for water rates and 3% for sewer rates.

The stormwater rate system will be a little more complicated as the city transitions to a new rate structure based on the amount of impervious surface on a piece of property.

The overall rate would increase 8% annually, but residential rates would “drift” down slightly while commercial rates would increase. By 2024, both rates would reach $8.84 per residential parcel or 3,200 square feet of impervious surface for commercial spaces.

City staff told the council in August that the city’s current tiered stormwater rate design for commercial properties is “cumbersome and has some elements that contribute to ratepayer inequity.”

The stormwater plan would also require the city to borrow about $500,000 to pay for improvements to the Mount Brinyon Canyon pipe improvements. The debt would be paid off through the utility proceeds.

FCS Group Tuesday night presented two rate plans each for water, sewer and stormwater. The alternative water plan funded about half of the city’s capital projects, but most of the council seemed to agree that all of the projects are necessary.

Community Development Director Michael Kardas said the biggest expense will be replacing the city’s nearly 40-year-old Ranney well water system, which could cost between $6 million and $12 million, depending on the results of an ongoing study into alternatives.

“I always tend to lean way towards ‘No’ on rate increases, but I’ve tasted Longview’s water. I like what we have and I don’t think we can skimp on making sure we continue to have high-quality water,” Councilman Larry Alexander told the rest of the council.

Council members Mike Karnofski and Kimberly Lefebvre expressed a similar sentiment.

“The reality is either you keep up or you have to play catchup when the financial situation for most folks might be different,” Councilman Jim Hill said. “My viewpoint is we simply will have to bite the bullet and do it. Hang the politics.”

Councilman Jeffrey McAllister, however, said he didn’t vote for the increases because he didn’t like the idea of the city having $500,000 in debt. He cast the only dissenting vote.

Also during the meeting, the council:

  • Approved a 9% increase in solid waste utility rates in 2020, which would increase the monthly fee for a single family dwelling by about $1.41 a month.
  • Approved a $9,500 contract supplement to the Southwest Washington Regional Airport runway maintenance project.
  • Discussed its upcoming legislative agenda with lobbyist Josh Weiss from Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs.
  • Closed out a $4.8 million contract to replace the Minor Road reservoir. The project was completed on Sept. 20.
  • Closed out a $1.8 million contract to improve the Tam O’Shanter parking lot.

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