Kennewick faces rise in water/sewer bills

KENNEWICK -- Kennewick residents could be charged about $6.30 more in their bimonthly water/sewer bills next month to make up losses in the ambulance and stormwater utilities' accounts.

Dan Legard, Kennewick's finance director, told the council recently that new legislation will allow the city to reduce or eliminate having to subsidize the ambulance fund with about $1.4 million each biennium.

The goal is to help preserve Kennewick's general fund for coming years, he said.

But keeping the money in the general fund means there has to be another source to cover the costs of operating the city's ambulance service.

Raising the monthly ambulance utility charge from $3.12 to $5.08 would cover the need, making the subsidy from the general fund unnecessary, Legard said.

Water/sewer bills are sent to about 30,800 properties in the city.

Currently, the city's ambulance service has about 4,400 calls per year, charging $578 per run. The monthly ambulance utility charge is additional for every city property owner.

Legard said the city can expect to collect about $6.3 million this biennium for ambulance services, but the costs will be about $900,000 more. That would require a subsidy from the general fund of much more than what has been about $750,000 annually.

Raising the cost of an ambulance run to $650 as an alternative to increasing the monthly charge wouldn't be enough, Legard said, because the higher cost would likely mean a drop in ambulance calls.

The council agreed, telling Legard to continue developing the proposal for raising the monthly ambulance utility fees.

Legard also said the city needs to make up a shortfall for the stormwater utility, which is a federal and state requirement.

The problem is that state law will not allow Kennewick to continue using some of its water/sewer funds to pay for installing the required stormwater collection and monitoring system.

Legard said the only way to make the stormwater utility program stand on its own and eliminate the water/sewer fund subsidy is to increase the monthly fee from $1.42 to $2.65.

The stormwater utility charge pays for five full-time employees, and for operating and replacing two street sweepers and a vacuum truck.

Legard noted that Kennewick has the lowest monthly sewer utility fee for single family homes in the region, at just less than $20. Pasco charges almost $25, with Richland a little higher and West Richland at $42, and Walla Walla the highest at nearly $44. The statewide average is $42.

Kennewick also has the lowest stormwater utility rates, which are less than half those elsewhere in the Tri-Cities and a fourth of what Walla Walla charges.

Legard said if the council agrees, the increases in ambulance and stormwater utility charges will take effect in January.