City of Lynnwood residents could see their utility rates increase by roughly 13% under a proposal presented to the Lynnwood City Council Tuesday night.
Every three years, the public works department hires a consultant to review the city’s utility rates. This year’s study, which covers 2023-28, is critical, as it is the first one to include a possible major upgrade for the wastewater treatment plant.
Lynnwood Public Works Director Bill Franz told the council Tuesday night that the city is expecting an increase of $20 million in debt to cover increased costs associated with water, stormwater and sewer facilities. Because of this, rates for each will be going up at the beginning of 2023.
“We’ve actually found that our ratepayers … are happy to know what the outlook is [even if rates are increasing],” Franz said. “They don’t have to wonder how much we’re going to raise rates every year. They can look at [the study] and get a pretty good idea.”
Even with a 13% rate increase, Lynnwood will still have the second lowest utility rates in Snohomish County.
Franz said city staff reviewed three areas when creating the study: Revenue requirement, cost of service and designing rates for targeted revenue.
In addition, the city is preparing to hire 12 more public works staff to catch up on deferred maintenance issues around the city. Instead of filling the positions all at once, the new employees will be hired in phases during the next six years. This will also factor into the utility rate increase.
Starting in January 2023 through January 2028, ratepayers will see an annual 5.4% increase in water rates and a 3.25% rise in stormwater rates. Sewer rates, meanwhile, will increase by 20% annually for the next four years. After that, Franz is hoping sewer rates will level out to approximately 12% yearly.
For an average customer, water bills will increase by approximately $1.88, stormwater bills will go up by about 54 cents and sewer bills will increase by $10-$15 per month.
In a follow-up interview, Franz pointed out that these numbers are preliminary.
“There are things we are doing to try and bring some of those numbers down,” he said. “These numbers would be like the worst-case scenario.”
According to Franz, the increase in rates is due to a number of factors. In addition to hiring new staff, the city in the next year is planning to replace the sludge incinerator at Lynnwood’s wastewater treatment plant with a more cost-efficient dryer. And it is also anticipating a complete plant rebuild in the next five to 10 years, which will cost roughly $200 million.
Another factor Franz said will affect costs is the price of water the city purchases from Alderwood Water and Wastewater District. In the next year, those prices will increase by 10-11%.
City staff are asking the council to approve a six-year updated rate plan to cover the cost of operations, capital projects and debt repayment. The council will vote on the matter at a later date.
In other business Tuesday night, the city council received a citywide pavement update.
Earlier this year, Lynnwood’s pavement consultant completed in-field site investigations of all the city’s streets to determine appropriate funding levels and street prioritization for approximately the next five years.
Franz said most of the roads in Lynnwood are showing extreme signs of wear and need more attention.
With current funding, Franz said the city is only able to repave approximately half a mile to a mile each year. However, with the council’s recent decision to allocate some of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money for road repairs and upgrades, the department will be able to do much more.
“The ARPA funds that we put toward paving in the next biennium is going to allow us to, for at least the first year, double the amount we need to repave,” Franz said.
However, the city will still not be able to keep up with the maintenance that the roads require. According to Council President George Hurst, if the city continues at its current rate of street repair, it will take more than 100 years to maintain every street in Lynnwood.
That is due mostly to the amount of large trucks and buses on Lynnwood’s streets, according to Franz.
“One truck or bus is the equivalent of the wear and tear from 20,000 cars,” he said. “Our roads would last a lot longer if we didn’t have those. But we do, and that’s OK.”
Lynnwood Staff Liaison David Mach said most of the streets in Lynnwood are 40-50 years old and were created at a time when traffic was only a fraction of what it is today. Because of this, many of the roads are beyond minimal repair, and will have to be completely replaced.
However, those renovations need to happen sooner rather than later, Mach said, noting that higher upfront costs now will save the city millions of dollars down the road.
Councilmember Shannon Sessions inquired about Sound Transit covering some of the cost of road repairs, since city buses seem to be doing the most damage. Unfortunately, Franz said getting any funding from Sound Transit is more of a “pipe dream” than a reality, and he doesn’t foresee them covering even a fraction of those costs anytime soon.
In other business, Council President Hurst made a motion to hold a special council meeting on Saturday, June 25, for a joint council and administration summit to better understand and discuss the needs of the city.
Typically, the council and department directors meet annually. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a joint summit has not been held since 2019.
The motion passed unanimously.
–By Lauren Reichenbach