Yelm Water Tower

A new two-tiered water rate model will be coming up for a vote by the Yelm City Council on Nov. 24 and, if passed, it’s expected to save customers a considerable chunk of change. 

Public Works Director Cody Colt gave a pair of presentations to the council during a study session on Wednesday, Nov. 4, one of them being the department's budgeting process and goals and the other on the new rate model. 

The new model, which is expected to be locked in for two years, would cut the current four-tier system into two tiers, with higher-use customers expected to see considerable cuts in their bills. Those using under 400 cubic feet would not be charged a water usage fee, though they would still have a base rate. 

Residential customers currently pay $4.27 per hundred cubic feet (CCF) for between zero and 800 cubic feet used, $6.40 per hundred feet between 801 and 1,800 cubic feet used, $10.24 per hundred feet between 1,801 and 2,800 cubic feet used, and $16.68 per hundred feet for usage of 2,801 cubic feet or more. 

If the new model is passed, residents in 2021 will pay $4.31 per CCF between 400 and 1,500 cubic feet used and $6.46 per CCF for any usage above 1,500 cubic feet. 

Colt said it’s expected to save the average customer about $16 per month. The average customer, who uses about about 800 cubic feet of water, pays about $71.63 monthly for water; in 2021, if the ordinance passes, they’ll be paying about $55.08.

“I think that’s a big deal, especially the help we’re giving to senior citizens,” Colt told the Nisqually Valley News over the phone on Thursday. 

The savings during the summer months is expected to be greater, he said. According to his presentation, a customer paying on the high end for 4,500 cubic feet in water should see a $242-decrease in their water bill if this ordinance passes. 

Colt in his presentation said efficiencies in the city’s well usage and water systems, continued preventative maintenance, an expected revenue increase due to growth and question deference to the Customer Service Department are all expected to financially offset the $600,000 annual blow in revenue that Public Works is expecting to take with the new water rate. 

But the hope, Colt said, is that this will motivate customers to limit their water usage since the city currently has a cap on how much water it provides to its customers. 

“We are limited on water, so that’s something we’ll have to keep in mind as we go into the summer months next year if water rights aren’t given to us, and we’ll have to keep an eye on that acreage feet per year that we’re allowed to pump,” Colt told the council. 

There are currently several thousand water rights being used within the city, Colt said, with about 194 rights available. The city is currently applying for additional water rights and is hoping to hear back soon from the state Department of Ecology on where their application stands. 

With the new model, commercial customers can expect to see a 1 percent increase in their base rates. Council member Tracey Wood said this is just a small bump for local businesses. 

“After looking at it and doing the math, it’s not a significant bump,” he said. 

Wood said the new rate adjustment is expected to save his business, Mr. Dougs Restaurant, a small amount over time. Water rates in the city, he said, have never really drawn as much ire as taxes though. 

Council member Joe DePinto, who serves on the city’s Public Works Committee, said he thinks the measure could get unanimous support from the city council. 

“I think it’s a smart move by the council and the mayor to back this. It really gives back to the people,” he said. “I think it’s going to go well, and I think it’s going to get council support.” 

Back in September, the city and its water rate model drew ire from hundreds of customers after they received larger-than-average water and sewer bills. About 70 customers went into the city’s highest tier, racking up bills upwards of $800, with one customer reporting being billed $2,450. 

The city shortly after passed a relief package to help those affected; it also hasn’t shut off any customers’ access to water due to the congoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

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