WENATCHEE — The Chelan County PUD wants more money next year for everything it sells except power.
Officials Monday asked commissioners for a 9 percent increase in sewer rates, a 6 percent hike in water rates and a 5 percent boost in the rate it charges private, local Internet service providers to use the PUD’s fiber-optics network to sell Internet, telephone and cable TV services.
These service providers often pass PUD rate hikes onto their own customers.
The sewer hike is down from a 15-percent increase proposed earlier this year, but put on hold when customers complained and commissioners balked.
“The 15 percent was nothing any of us could live with,” Commissioner Ann Congdon told staffers Monday. “You’re doing the right thing to get this down to 9 percent.”
John Stoll, the PUD’s director of customer service, said at least three more consecutive years of 9-percent sewer hikes would be necessary to meet an internal financial goal for the service to break even.
Water-rate hikes of 6 percent would also be needed in 2015 and 2016 for that service to meet its target of break-even plus 1 percent, Stoll said.
The PUD’s water and sewer customers generally live in rural or harder-to-reach and less-populated areas, making service more expensive to provide, but with fewer customers to share costs, officials say.
Commissioners will consider the water and sewer hikes as part of their upcoming talks about the 2014 budget. Public meetings will be set in December and January to discuss further increases.
New rates, if approved, would take effect in February or March.
George Wilson of Lake Wenatchee told commissioners that when PUD officials proposed installing the sewer service in the early 1990s, they said the utility would use revenue from the sale of its surplus electricity to subsidize Lake Wenatchee sewer rates to keep them low.
Based on that information, many area residents agreed to abandon their own, functioning septic systems and support the PUD system.
Wilson says that changed with the PUD’s latest business plan, which calls for all of its services to at least break even, without subsidies.
Wilson would see his current sewer rate of about $62 per month by more than 36 percent over the next four years, if commissioners approve consecutive 9-percent increases.
He said he doesn’t object to hikes that respond to inflation, but said Lake Wenatchee residents shouldn’t be expected to cover all system costs and upgrades with higher rates.
He urged commissioners to continue rate subsidies by viewing the utility as a partner in the water health of Lake Wenatchee, since the utility reared young sockeye salmon in net pens in the lake for years.
PUD General Manager Steve Wright told Wilson that staff would study impacts of utility use of the lake and report back to him.