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City Council discusses 2023 water rate increases

By: Katherine Trowbridge

The Connell City Council heard from City Treasurer Teresa Steele during the council meeting held Mon., May 15 as she presented the need for water rate increases.

The proposed rate increases were based on a number of factors that Steele presented in depth to the council.

Steele shared the main driver for an increase this year is the well failure that occurred in 2022. Experts recommend replacing the well and while the city looked into grants, the city’s rates are too low and not competitive enough for the area. Tuck shared that the city needs to be self sustaining enough that they would consider grant funding or a 50% match of funds.

The city typically conducts a rate study to provide a guide for rate increases. Another factor for the request is capital costs, which the last rate study did not include.

Steele stated the rate increase request is driven by high inflation, the well failure, and no rate increases in three years.

The presentation included more in-depth details on the city’s well water needs, as they are only running on three wells. The city is also looking at the need to plan for growth.

Steele also showed that while the water/sewer funds show a healthy fund balance, this could quickly become depleted due to cash flow use and future obligations. The city currently has several loans that they are paying towards for projects that have been completed in the amount of nearly $3 million. The water fund is also due to pay the city’s general fund $727,650 for water rights that were purchased.

City staff stated that they aren’t sure on all the details pertaining to sewer and thus want to bring back more details on it. Steele did say they may not need an increase for sewer. The initial recommendation is for an 8% increase in water rates for 2023. Councilmember KaTrina Kunkel said she had a hard time with this as, for some families, this is dinner. Councilmember Joe Escalera asked several questions as discussion ensued.

Steele state, “The city is committed to keeping a sound strategic approach and sound financial management.” A new rate study is planned for 2024.

The council also heard from Public Works Director Hallie Tuck, who gave the staff report during a public hearing on the six year transportation improvement plan (STIP).

Tuck shared the STIP is the funding mechanism for expensive capital improvements to Connell’s multimodal transportation network. The STIP is to be consistent with the city and counties comprehensive plan.

The new major project added to the STIP is the Clark Street Bridge Rebuild project. It is likely that the city would be eligible for funding for this project, so it was added.

There was no public or council comment presented during the public hearing.

The street committee met last Friday and recommended approval of Resolution 2023-04 adopting the six year plan. Councilmember Kunkel motioned and Pat Barrera seconded the motion which proceeded with a unanimous vote to accept Resolution 2023-04.

Councilmembers took a moment from the meeting’s agenda to step outside and cheer on the Connell Community Float as it made its debut along Columbia Ave.

The next council meeting will be held on June 5 at 6pm. The public is invited.

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