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King County proposal keeps sewer rates at current level

Monthly utility rates for regional wastewater treatment will not increase in 2014 under a proposal transmitted to the King County Council Thursday by Executive Dow Constantine.

“A stable sewer rate for the second consecutive year ensures we honor our environmental commitments while staying on a course of fiscal responsibility,” said  Constantine in a King County press release.

The King County Council has until June 30, 2013, to adopt legislation that keeps the monthly wholesale sewer rate of $39.79 at its current level through the end of 2014. The proposal also seeks a 3.5 percent increase in the monthly capacity charge levied to newly connecting customers, taking this rate from $53.50 to $55.35.

These rates guarantee funding for the maintenance, operation and expansion of infrastructure that is crucial for protecting regional water quality, public health, and supporting economic development

To preserve stable sewer rates in 2014 and to keep planned future rate increases below prior budget projections, King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) continues to maintain tight control of its operating expenditures by implementing an employee-led efficiency program similar to its Productivity Initiative that ended in 2011. WTD will carry out efficiency measures in 2013 estimated to save about $2.5 million.

The division is also placing continued emphasis on cost containment as part of its major capital program. A key element of these efforts is the savings of $64 million in interest payments by successfully refinancing more than $470 million in outstanding bonds.

Following the completion of the $1.8 billion Brightwater treatment system, WTD’s capital spending levels have returned to more normal levels from the peak level of $456 million in 2009.

In 2013-2014, the division plans to budget $332 million for capital projects, including approximately $163 million in direct construction spending. In addition to providing infrastructure to support long-term planned development and economic growth, the construction activity will be a significant source of employment.

Despite the reduced level of capital spending in 2013, direct construction activity will support as many as 1,700 full- and part-time jobs in the region.

To ensure critical projects are adequately funded, division employees will continue to carefully review project scopes, schedules, cash flow projections, and risk analyses, according to the county press release.

King County collects and treats wastewater from 34 cities and local sewer utilities at one of its three regional treatment plants: West Point in Seattle; South Plant in Renton; and Brightwater north of Woodinville.

Sewer rate revenue covers the cost to maintain and operate these plants as well as the regional conveyance system that covers more than 420-square miles that spans King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.

The capacity charge is levied to newly connecting customers to ensure “growth pays for growth” by covering the cost of projects to expand the system and to build new facilities.

King County’s adopted wastewater budget for 2012 includes about $305.1 million in revenue from the monthly sewer rate and about $42.4 million in revenue from the capacity charge. The 2012 budget also includes about $1.3 million from investments and about $8.7 million from other income such as fees for industrial waste, sewage removed from septic tanks and rate stabilization funds.

Of the total revenue (about $379 million), the Wastewater Treatment Division is budgeted to spend about $121 million to operate and maintain its facilities and about $258 million for planning, designing and building facilities.

Detailed information about the Wastewater Treatment Division’s mission and finances is available at http://www.kingcounty.gov/ratepayerreport.

 

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