BELLINGHAM - City water and sewer bills will rise significantly in the next few years, based on a new rate schedule approved Monday, Dec. 3, by the City Council.
The council also approved a low-income discount system that will reduce rates for an estimated 500 senior citizens and disabled people who own or rent homes and pay their own water bills.
Beginning in January 2013, the combined water, sewer and stormwater charge for city households will rise from the current $82.19 per month to $87.40 per month. Bills will continue to be sent out every two months.
Similar-size increases are in the works for 2014, 2015 and 2016. By 2016, the monthly bill will rise to $103.93, for an increase of more than 26 percent compared to current rates.
Commercial and industrial users will also see significant rate increases.
Public Works Director Ted Carlson told the council that the city utility system needs the extra revenue to cover operation and maintenance costs and estimated future costs of new equipment.
The increase has been under discussion for months, and the council held a public hearing Nov. 19. Council members said they're convinced the increases are necessary.
"Yes, it is a hit, but it's a hit that has to be taken," Gene Knutson said. "It's never easy up here to raise rates, but that's the way it is."
Seth Fleetwood agreed.
"These rates reflect the actual costs," he said. "It's something we have to do."
The low-income discount is available for disabled people and those 62 or older who make a gross annual income of $35,000 or less. Those who make half that amount or less can get a 75 percent discount. Those who make 50 to 75 percent are eligible for a 50 percent reduction, while those in the 75 to 100 percent bracket are eligible for a 25 percent reduction.
Carlson told the council that he did not see any workable way to offer a similar discount to apartment dwellers, whose rent payments typically include city utilities. Lower-income renters will likely feel the impact of the rate increases when landlords pass those increases along to their tenants, when and if leases permit.
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