Ferndale proposal: Raise stormwater rates 40 percent

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 4, 2014 

FERNDALE - City Council will decide in the next month whether to raise stormwater rates by 40 percent to meet unanticipated costs. If approved, the rate increase - to $14 per month for residential customers, up from the current $10 - will be the fourth tax or fee increase approved by council in the past year.

The increase would go into effect on July 1. Finance Director Mark Peterson said he had looked at options that delayed the increase until 2015.

"It doesn't work. We need money this year," Peterson said.

That's a decision for the council to make. It must decide whether the improvement projects and purchases planned for the next six years are all necessary, or whether the rate increase can be reduced by delaying some of those costs.

An increase to the stormwater fee had been in the offing for several months, to pay for a new stormwater inspector, a new street-sweeping vehicle, and major stormwater improvements in a zone for accelerated development around the Main Street interchange.

All of these were to be covered by a 20 percent rate hike. The proposed increase became 40 percent by the time it was introduced to council on Monday, March 3, because staff found some other expenses it hadn't accounted for. Removing a storm pipe under the parking lot at City Hall will cost $125,000, and the estimated cost of new storm lines for this year's Church Road reconstruction went up by $50,000.

The sudden jump in the proposed rate caught some council members off guard.

"We might as well make it $20 now rather than $14, so we pick up all those things we're not going to anticipate in the next four or five years," council member Mel Hansen said, only half-jokingly.

The rate increase will be discussed again on Wednesday morning, March 12, at the next meeting of the council's Public Works and Utilities Committee. A vote on the increase could come as early as the March 17 meeting of the full council.

In the past year, the council raised the solid-waste tax to help pay for the new library; increased the utility tax to balance the general fund (while reducing the water and sewer fees by the same amount); and raised property tax revenue for 2014 by 1 percent to cover escalating costs.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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