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Ferndale City Council meeting (May 15, 2017). Photo: Discover Ferndale

Neighbors are invited to comment on proposed sewer cost increases

At today’s Ferndale City Council Finance and Administration Committee meeting, it was decided to further discuss and provide another opportunity for public comment about increases to sewer usage and new connection fees approved at the last council meeting.

A vote of 4 to 3 during the June 6th council meeting approved increasing connection fees 25% per year over the next 3 years (an increase of 95% or nearly double over 3 years) and increasing usage rates by 3% per year over the next 3 years (an increase of 9.3% over 3 years). In addition, a summer usage rate discount was to be eliminated (the average from the previous winter billings were used).

Sewer usage rates are invoiced bi-monthly based each account’s water usage. Connection fees are a one-time charge when connecting a new building to the sewer system.

In addition to the billing for utilities, the City of Ferndale charges a Utility Tax of 9% on water, sewer and storm drainage. This amount will increase accordingly with the proposed sewer usage rate increase. Utility Tax revenues go into the COF general fund (COF municipal code 3.26.080)It was also agreed by the same vote to put the new rate ordinance on the consent agenda at this Monday’s meeting. The consent agenda is where multiple items not requiring further discussion are placed and are able to be approved by a single vote as a means of speeding up meetings.

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But, given the response from citizens and developers since the last meeting, it was agreed to during today’s committee meeting to give the sewer rate and fee increases its own place on the agenda, allowing for further discussion and a public comment period.

Councilmembers have been tasked with increasing revenue in order to cover loan payments for the financing required to increase the capacity of the treatment plant which has begun exceeding 85% of its designed capacity. According to City of Ferndale Public Works Director Kevin Renz, the current plan to increase capacity will utilize the current plant’s footprint but will replace the current system with different and more effective processing technology.

Last summer, the COF requested qualifications from design engineering prospects for the plant upgrade project that is expected cost about $20 million.

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Councilmembers have struggled to find a balance between increasing the usage rate (existing customers) and connection fees (new customers). According to the last council meeting’s agenda, they were expecting to discuss whether to implement

  1. 10% annual sewer connection fee increases and a 5% annual sewer rate increases or
  2. 20% annual sewer connection fee increases and 4% annual sewer rate increases.

But, by the end of the council meeting discussion, they voted for 25% annual sewer connection fee increases and 3% annual sewer rate increases, imposing a bigger increase on new connections than on current customers’ usage and assuming the number of new connections would continue at least at the current rate.

The City Council meeting will be held Monday, June 19th, at 6pm at the Council Chambers, 5694 2nd Avenue.

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