The Vader City Council has officially approved a new sewer rate increase with the intention of raising funds for regular operations and maintenance, as well as expected sewer plant upgrades.
Approved during the council's Jan. 22 meeting, the rate increase had been incorporated into the sewer system budget approved by the council last month, but the actual rate was not changed until their most recent meeting and is expected to go into effect during the next billing cycle.
"This makes it official, by resolution," said Mayor Ken Smith to the council, who approved the increase unanimously, with the noted absence of Council Members Andy Wilson and Mark Fenison, both of whom had been excused from the meeting.
The increase, described in Resolution 04-2015, affects different rate payers differently, with base rates increasing by $1 per month for most residential and commercial sewer customers, who will now pay $59 per month, but by $0.70 per month for those qualifying as low-income senior citizens, who will now pay $41.90 per month, and non-profit/charitable community groups, who will now pay $10.70 per month.
When an increase was discussed last November during the council's budget workshops, it was stated rates would need to go up to account for the rising costs of operations and maintenance for the system, while the city is also hoping to build up the funding needed to upgrade their lagoon-style sewer plant, which is more than two decades old and has been regularly violating state standards for the last several years.
When the council most recently reviewed their options for upgrades, it was reported the city was working with engineers to determine which upgrades could be performed fist in case just a few improvements could bring the system into compliance rather than an estimated $4 million in improvements, which the city would likely not be able to afford without the acquisition of significant grant funding.
Such improvements, according to the city's most recent facility plan, include the purchase and installation of new, more effective aerators for the lagoons, as well as an extension of the outflow lines from their present location at Olequa Creek to the Cowlitz River, as discharge standards for the Cowlitz would be far less than the Olequa. The council has yet, however, to dedicate themselves to any specific plan at this time as additional information continues to be provided from both engineers and state regulators.
When discussions of a rate increase took place last year, the council also said, in preparation for the ultimate cost of upgrading the plant, it may be best to continue gradually increasing rates in the coming years, but no such official decision has been made by the council.