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Winlock elects to increase utility hookup fees

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The Winlock City Council has chosen to increase the city’s sewer and water hookup fees as part of ongoing efforts to revise and update their utility billing practices.

Approved during their June 9 meeting, the council chose to increase water hookup fees from $2,500 to $3,000 for connections within the city limits, from $3,800 to $4,000 for connections outside the city limits, and sewer hookup fees from $3,500 to $4,000 for connections inside and outside the city limits.

“We’re still cheaper than everybody else around us,” commented Council Member Sarah Gifford. “We’re cheaper than Napavine, Vader, Toledo.”

The council had first examined raising hookup fees in March as part of ongoing efforts to increase the city’s expenditures while reducing expenses. Other options discussed had been leasing the Community Building and asking voters to consider annexation into the Timberland Regional Library District, both of which have also been approved and would remove the city from its current obligation to financially support such facilities.

Also on the table is a shortening of the city’s utility hookup abandonment timetable, as it currently takes two years of inactivity before a hookup fee will be required to restore services. City Attorney Erin Hillier had advised the council during their May 27 meeting these terms were extremely lax compared to how other cities in the state operate, and noted some municipalities allow only 90 until a hookup is abandoned, stating this is an extreme on the other end of the scale.

Hillier suggested the council consider four months of non payment as an option to trigger hookup abandonment, primarily because the city is entitled under state law to impose a lien on a property for unpaid utilities after the same four months, she said.

“That four-month limit is one you really need to pay attention to,” she told the council at that time, adding officials are in no way obligated to choose such a timeline but should consider what is best for the city. “You’re going to have to look to see if that works for Winlock. You guys are a unique city.”

While discussing the increase in hookup fees June 9, the Dowell said the issue of hookup abandonment policies was being placed on hold until the next meeting when Hillier is expected to be in attendance, so the city may be advised of their rights and options.

These increases in fees come at a time when Winlock’s sewer and water systems are in significant need of repair, as leaks in the water system are straining well pumps while infiltration into the sewer system has led to recent bypasses into Olequa Creek during high flow events.

In order to begin tackling the problem, the council approved an application June 9 seeking $988,626 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding from the state for the replacement of significant portions of the water system, as well as $49,000 from CDBG for updates to its water system plans.

The council also approved a CDBG application for $1 million toward the replacement of its entire sewer system, indented to be undertaken next year, with an exception of seeking an additional $1 million for the project through other funding sources such as the Department of Ecology.

Funding through these sources requires eventual approval from the state legislature, who are entitled to grant all, part or none of the request. Dowell said, if only a portion of the grants are awarded, Winlock will begin replacing whichever sections of the systems it can afford to at that time.

The next Winlock City Council meeting is scheduled for June 23 at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall. Those with questions or in need of accommodations may call (360) 785-3811 beforehand.

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