No variable rates for county sewer | Savings do not justify billing costs

There will be no variable sewer rates for Kitsap County sewer customers anytime soon.

The Board of County Commissioners Monday agreed, during a briefing by the public works department, to suspend work on a scheme to charge varied rates to customers based on usage.

The county’s sewer customers have for years asked for a variable rate for reasons such as personal water conservation or number of members in a household, according to Dave Tucker, assistant director of Kitsap County Public Works. The last time users piped up about sewage rates was during the 2010 rate increase.

“Mostly [senior citizens] call,” Stella Vakarcs, of the Kitsap County Public Works-Wastewater Division said.

Following a study,  the Kitsap County Public Works Solid Waste Division found no real gain for customers by switching to a rate that accounts for individual household usage because the cost difference is negligible and a complex amount of work to attain any form of metering on sewer usage is expensive.

One of the most popular ways to meter sewage flow out of a house is to use meter data of the water going into a home or business. Tucker said county sewer customers get water from a wide variety of sources all with different metering accounting systems. Simply figuring out the varied bills might wipe out or surpass any potential savings to the utility customer, he said.

There are two small variable rate systems in the county — one in Sherman heights the other in Navy Yard City, holdouts from an exchange with the City of Bremerton.

Beyond making sense for the customer base, whatever rate system is used must generate the minimum of $57 per hook up per month in order for the county to pay outstanding bonds. Of the county’s 9,200 sewer customers, about 3,000 would be remain on the fixed rate. The fixed rate system currently charges $57 per month to all single family homes in Central Kitsap and Manchester.

According to the Sewer Utility Division, 81 percent of the total users send between 200 and 1,000 cubic feet of sewage down the drain each month. That variable only accounts for 11 percent of the total costs passed on to the rate payer. Under a variable rate scheme, that meets the financial minimums required by bonds, customers would pay between $52.66 and $60.38 per month. Savings decline to about $2 per month.

The study was based on a test in the Kingston Sewer Service Area, which serves 345 customers.

Kitsap County Commissioner Josh Brown said the  question of variable rates was largely answered by the large percent of utility customers who would stay on the fixed rate and the little to no savings for the rate payer.

“The fixed rate is less complicated,” Brown said.

District 1 Commissioner Robert Gelder said that the variable rate scheme at this point would not be “equitable” and that figuring out how to apply new demands to an older and hard to understand system might result in the cost outweighing the benefit.

District 2 Commissioner Charlotte Garrido agreed, and said that 2012 is not the time to put further county resources into a task that doesn’t achieve equity for the ratepayers and the county, but let all in the room know the idea should remain in the background.

“It’s not off the table for the future,” she said.


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