The City of Winlock is preparing to undergo a study of their water and sewer rates to learn whether or not the high costs imposed on utility customers is appropriate.
The average residential user of water and sewer in Winlock is currently paying around $138 per month ($32.85 for water, $93.50 for sewer, and other fees and taxes), with a significant amount from sewer going toward repayment of a $6.9 million loan acquired to build the city's new plant in 2007, as well as the high operations and maintenance costs of the plant.
In light of these circumstances, Winlock was contacted by state officials toward the end of last year and offered the opportunity to undergo the study, according to Mayor Lonnie J. Dowell, which he said is expected to be led by the Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC), a non-profit based in California regularly contracted to perform such services throughout the West Coast, according to their website.
Dowell said the study, the details of which are expected to be outlined during a public workshop scheduled for Feb. 23, has the potential to determine Winlock's rates are too high and could offer recommendations advising how the city may reduce them, but equally has the potential to determine rates are too low and may advise the city to enact an increase.
Members of the City Council have repeatedly voiced opposition to increasing rates and even modified the conditions of their sewer system loan last year to avoid raising rates this year. Dowell did advise any recommendations from the study would not be binding on the city, and any changes in rates would require approval by the council.
Dowell said the potential for an increase may come from the city's need for funding to repair and expand both its sewer and water systems (with such projects estimated to total multiple millions of dollars), stating cities with higher rates than other applicants for grants and loans tend to score better and receive a higher ratio of grants to loans than they might otherwise.
But Dowell again said this is simply a possibility and more detailed information is expected to be discussed during the workshop, as far as what the study could mean for Winlock.
Expected to speak during the workshop will be RosAnna Noval, environmental rural development specialist for RCAC assigned to work with Winlock. In an interview Feb. 6, Noval said such studies generally take between three to six months to complete, depending on the effort needed to find enough data for their research.
She added Winlock should not expect to be charged for the work performed by RCAC, as such services are covered by a contract RCAC has with the State Departments of Health and Ecology, who oversee drinking water and wastewater treatment, respectively.
The Feb. 23 workshop is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. in City Hall and is open to the public. Those with questions or in need of accommodations may call (360) 785-3811 beforehand.
For additional information about RCAC, visit their website at www.rcac.org.