Rates must rise again, Seattle Public Utilities tells City Council

Seattle Public Utilities wants the City Council to OK six additional years of rate increases, saying its expenses are escalating. But with the typical monthly cost proposed to rise to $250 a month in 2023, a watchdog panel has concerns about affordability and transparency.

When Vera Patterson received a postcard from Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) this summer alerting her to a round of proposed rate hikes, she knew what she had to do.

Patterson consulted her walking group — South End women in their 60s and 70s who gather to circumnavigate Seward Park, share news and trade stories.

“Hey guys, did you get this postcard? Our utility bills are going up,” Patterson, 68, told her friends. “They’re going to have public hearings. We need to go talk.”

Her group did exactly that, sending several members to City Hall for three public hearings this summer.

SPU is asking the City Council to approve a new six-year plan with 5.5 percent average annual increases to its combined rates for water, wastewater, solid waste (billed every other month) and drainage (paid through property taxes).

The typical monthly cost for a homeowner would climb from $180 this year to $250 in 2023, while the typical cost for an apartment dweller would grow from $107 to $151.

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SPU says it needs the money to replace aging pipes, prevent sewage from spilling into the Lake Washington Ship Canal and keep up with escalating employee expenses, among other things.

But a watchdog panel says SPU has missed opportunities amid a construction boom to make developers of new buildings pay for adding stress to its systems.

The panel also argues SPU’s 1.4 million residential and business customers deserve more transparency. Most voters in 2015 weren’t aware the $930 million Move Seattle transportation levy that they approved would put them on the hook for an additional $201 million in SPU spending.

While saying the rate increases are necessary, SPU acknowledges they would make life less affordable in a city where rents, property taxes and other costs for ordinary people are escalating. Water rates already are among the steepest in the country.

“I find myself before you as an alarmed senior citizen watching my quality of life shrinking daily with little to no concern exhibited by the leadership of this city,” Patterson told the council last month. “The question today is whether or not…

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