Birch Bay Water and Sewer District customers will see an 8 percent increase in their water and sewer bills after district commissioners approved the change in the face of declining district revenue.
The commissioners voted 3-0 at their November 17 meeting to approve the change, which will increase water, sewer and fixed charges. The new rates will bring in about $250,000 more for the district in 2012 compared to 2011.
District manager Roger Brown said the $250,000 does not mean any more money for the district but instead will replace the revenue lost during this summer’s cold and wet weather. The majority of the water use in the Birch Bay area is outdoor, so district customers use less water during colder and wetter weather. Around 80 percent of the district’s costs are fixed – they do not change no matter how much water people use.
District commissioner Carl Reichhardt said declining revenue due to decreased water use is affecting water districts across the state.
“It’s all over the place, it’s just not us,” Reichhardt said.
The rate increases will mean customers who use 900 cubic feet of water every two months, the average amount across the district, would pay $5.75 more in their bimonthly bill; $71.85 increased to $77.60. The district last raised water rates in 2009 with a 1 percent across-the-board increase.
The Birch Bay Water and Sewer District’s rates are still some of the lowest in Whatcom County, Brown said. At similar usage levels, Blaine residents’ water and sewer bills are 54 percent higher than those in Birch Bay.
While the 8 percent increase was the prevailing figure, Brown presented other alternatives at the meeting, including a 10 percent across-the-board increase. Commissioners, however, shied away from the 10 percent change citing how the “10” figure would look to customers.
“That’s a little hard to swallow, 10 percent,” Reichhardt said.
Another option was to reduce the 180 days worth of operating expenses that district policy says must be in the general fund at any given time. Brown said preliminary discussions with a private financial consultant have led him to consider reducing the 180-day figure.
Brown considered reducing the remaining balance figure to 45 days, which would have required a 6 percent rate increase across the board; a $4.31 increase in an average user’s bimonthly bill. However, board commissioners preferred to hold the remaining balance figure at 180 days until the issue could be studied further.
The district is combating declining revenue with more than just rate increases. District officials have reduced labor costs by eliminating an inspector position and combining it with the water conservation specialist, bringing the 2012 district position count to 14.