City of Ketchikan residents likely will see a 10 percent increase in the wastewater portion of their monthly utility bill, but a water rate increase still is in question.
Both rate hikes were programmed into the 2013 budget, but must be approved in separate ordinances.
The Ketchikan City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to move the wastewater increase forward. If approved in a second reading, that monthly fee will go from $37.45 to $41.20 for each residential customer.
The Council also voted unanimously to defer the water rate increase, citing inequities in the rate structure.
Council Member Bob Sivertsen requested the delay. He referred to a cost-of-service study that the city commissioned.
“The report does talk about having to increase the fish processors by almost 400 percent in order to equalize it. But that would also probably lower the residential rates, so again we’re in a position here where I think the residential rates are taking up the slack in the lack of a better rate structure,” he said.
Sivertsen suggested that the city work with local fish processors to adjust water rates in a way that would more accurately reflect water use. He said if those groups can negotiate an agreement, water rates for residents could be lowered, while still meeting budget needs.
Council Member Sam Bergeron thanked Sivertsen for bringing up the issue.
“I think we have an obligation to base a rate structure that’s equitable and fair and meets the best interest of everybody that we serve,” he said. “Certainly, commercial rate payers, this is a tax-deductible expense for them. My water bill, I looked everywhere on my form; I can’t write it off.”
The proposed 5 percent rate increase would mean the monthly water rate for residential customers would go from $40.87 to $42.91. Water rates have been going up regularly as the city tries to make revenue meet expenses for that utility.
Water rates vary for commercial users, depending on the type of business and the size of the water tap. Fish processors with a 2-inch pipe, for example, pay more than $4,000 per month, while the base rate for many other businesses is about $42 per month under the current fee structure.
Mayor Lew Williams III urged restraint when looking at fee increases for fish processors.
“I don’t want to see us do a 400 percent increase, but we can work on some kind of setup where it rises,” he said.
Also Thursday, the Council deferred a vote on a funding agreement between the city and the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau. The Council wanted more details about a lease for the bureau’s dock building. The issue will come back for the Council’s first meeting in February.
The next Council meeting is a special meeting on Thursday, Jan. 10th, to consider concepts for the Centennial Building remodel. The Ketchikan Public Library has moved out of that downtown building and into its new facility, so the space is available for a potential museum expansion.
That meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Ted Ferry Civic Center.