Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Public Works Utilities 2009-13 Rates

Your Chamber representative, Gary Brackett, has been a multi-year participant in the City of Tacoma's Environmental Services Commission. He views the primary duty is to represent business interests, as that's the slot he fills.

The ECS is preparing its recommendation to the Tacoma City Council for the 2009-13 Rates for Wastewater, Surface Water and Solid Waste utilities. Last rate case, the Chamber was a robust advocate for the City's prompt adoption of cost of service principles (customers pay what it costs without class subsidies) for solid waste. The City Council agreed.

(Other utilities including wastewater, surface water, power and potable water, follow the cost of service principle.)

For decades the City had "moved" toward that principle for solide waste, but had made little progress. Then, the City Council adopted a schedule that would restore cost of service principles. The City is still following that schedule. And although cost of service has not yet been achieved, this new rate case retains that schedule. As a result, businesses will see 0% to 1% increases for several more years. System-wide, the rates will increase an average 4.9%.

Ratepayers are not so lucky with surface water. The City is faced with complying with its NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) permit. That permit's terms are causing an aggressive capital program and will result in system average rate increases of 7.8%.
Of lesser impact will be the wastewater utility. There system average increases are proposed to be 6.2%. This proposed increase has been reduced from a staff suggested 7.5%, by eliminating some staff positions, reducing capital expenditures and passing on a cogeneration project. Its discharge permits are not expected to cause concerns.
An issue that remains unsettled is a residential volumetric rate that would charge residential customers a differential rate depending on the size (volume) of the container, rather than follow cost of service principles. As long as that incentivized rate is contained within the residential class, Brackett, as the business representative, does not intend to support a position. The Chamber has followed a similar position with incentivized power and potable water residential rates.

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