Tacoma water rates increase

Tacoma City Council voted yesterday to adopt recommendations made by the Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU) board to raise water rates by an overall average of 5.4 per cent. Effective Jan. 19, residential rates will rise 2.3 percent this year, and 1.7 percent in 2010.

The proposed rate increases were met with concern by Metro Parks Tacoma. The parks department’s rates will jump 10.7 per cent this year, and eight per cent in 2010.

In a Dec. 10 letter from Metro Parks Executive Director Jack Wilson to TPU Board Chair Tom Hilyard, Wilson said that between 2002 and 2008 the parks department’s irrigation rates have increased 97 per cent. “This proposed double-digit increase for 2009 has us quite alarmed,” wrote Wilson. “[O]ur water supply costs have increased over $135,000 since 2003 Our total water supply costs for water in 2007 was $425,000 of which over an estimated 90 per cent is attributed to irrigation.”

During City Council’s noon study session yesterday, which was held prior to the full city council meeting and included members of TPU’s board of directors, Metro Parks representatives reiterated their concerns.

“The alarm that we registered has been one of recognizing the cumulative effect of double digit rate increases over the years,” Wilson told councilmembers and TPU board members. “Our primary concern is how to get off that train.”

TPU Director Bill Gaines said he understood the parks department’s concerns. He said that federal guidelines have forced the utility to spend more money in order to meet new drinking water standards. Those costs are reflected in water rate increases. “Metro Parks made clear they have concerns of cumulative effect of rate increaes over past several years,” said Gaines. “Going forward, I would like to work together. We have made a committement to work with the parks department over next six to eight months to see what can be done to mitigate [the costs] and look at other supply alternatives.”

If TPU declined to move forward with the new rates and consider alternatives for Metro Parks immediately, the delay would have resulted in $167,000 in lost revenue and a larger rate increase to recover the loss.

“We certainly don’t want to hold up the process,” said Metro Parks Board Chair Victoria Woodards. “But if there is an opportunity for reconsideration in 2010, whatever relief we can get is what we’re hopeful for.”

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To view a copy of TPU’s water rates presentation during Tuesday’s City Council study session, click here: