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Building a home in Ferndale? Price of connecting to sewer, water is probably going up

Ferndale City Hall
Ferndale City Hall The Bellingham Herald file

By 2019, it’ll likely cost about twice as much – nearly $15,000 – to connect a new home to city sewer and water.

That’s what the City Council decided in a 4-3 vote Monday to help fund a new wastewater treatment plant. The city’s old plant is reaching its capacity as more people move to Ferndale. The council’s split vote decided the city would use the growth necessitating the plant’s expansion to cover the new facility.

The city plans to build the $20 million plant right next to the current one on Ferndale Road.

The council’s vote Monday did not ratify the new fees in an ordinance; rather, the decision was an agreement among council members on what increases would go into that ordinance. The new rates, which will appear on the consent agenda later this month, would take effect June 30 if they pass.

The fee to connect a new home to city sewer and water is about $7,400, said Riley Sweeney, a Ferndale spokesman. The new fee schedule proposes compounded 25-percent hikes to $9,400 for the last half of 2017, $11,800 at the start of 2018, then $14,700 in 2019.

Our feelings are that increasing these connections will not drive people somewhere else. There’s only limited places to live and Ferndale seems to be the place that everyone wants to live, and I think we can all appreciate why.

Greg Young, Ferndale city administrator

The vote also increased water and sewer-use costs for current residents at a rate of 3 percent a year in the same time frame. The average single-family home, Sweeney said, pays $187 bimonthly for water and sewer. The same home would pay a $193 bimonthly bill for the second half of 2017, then $198 in 2018 and $204 in 2019.

“So new houses in Ferndale are going to be facing the bigger portion of the bill,” Sweeney added. “Which makes sense because the new facility is necessary because of all the new houses.”

Ferndale’s population was about 11,400 in 2010, according to state census data – an increase of about 2,600 residents from 2000. The state estimates Ferndale’s population was 13,250 in April 2016, the most recent data available.

The city is also doing away with a summertime discount that offered a flat rate to residents on their sewer service, but not water. Discontinuing that program was just another way to help fund the new plant, Sweeney said.

City Administrator Greg Young at Monday’s meeting said the city’s connection fees have been among Whatcom County’s highest in the last decade. It hasn’t had a “noticeable chilling effect on development,” he added.

“Our feelings are that increasing these connections will not drive people somewhere else,” Young told the City Council. “There’s only limited places to live and Ferndale seems to be the place that everyone wants to live, and I think we can all appreciate why.”

Still, some council members worried the connection fee increase was too high, and could drive developers away, thereby leaving the city with no revenue and no way to fund the plant.

“I understand the notion, the idea, of development paying for development, said Councilman Greg Hansen, “but I think that we’re taking too big a bite from the apple here.”

Hansen, along with council members Rebecca Xczar and Teresa Taylor, opposed the increase.

Councilman Keith Olson made the motion to approve the new rates and fees.

“Right now, we need to have a lot of money to fix this problem that’s coming up, and existing rate payers shouldn’t have to pay for it going forward,” he said. “We need to start building a war chest to pay for this thing that’s coming.”

Kyle Mittan: 360-756-2803, @KyleMittan

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