Wastewater bill discounts proposed for low-water users, multi-family residences

Credit program part of three-year utility rate proposal

Marlene Feist, Utilities Communications Manager, (509) 625-6505

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 1:30 p.m.

The City of Spokane is proposing wastewater bill discounts for customers who use less water or live in multi-family residences.

The discount program is designed allow customers to make choices that could lead to lower monthly bills. Currently, all wastewater customers are charged the same rates regardless of the amount of wastewater they generate.

The City Council is expected to vote on the discounts at its Nov. 24 meeting, along with a three-year utility rate proposal that limits annual increases to average inflation over 25 years, or 2.9 percent a year. For 2015, the average residential customer's City utility bill would increase by $3.21 a month. The average customer has charges for water, wastewater, stormwater and solid waste and is assumed to use about 15,000 gallons of water a month and have a 68-gallon garbage cart.

Over the last three years, the City has strived for affordable and predictable utility rates to assist citizens.

"Once again, we are providing our citizens with greater value for their dollar. In our utilities, we are reining in operational costs and focusing on key capital investments to provide excellent services at a good price," says Mayor David Condon.

City Council Members, meanwhile, have been seeking a way to provide equity for customers who generate less wastewater

"It's important to me that our utility rates are fair and equitable. This change in the wastewater rate is a step in the right direction," says Council Member Amber Waldref, who leads the Council's Public Works Committee.

The program will be phased in over three years, in conjunction with the three-year utility rate proposal.

  • In 2015, the lowest 20 percent of water users will begin receiving credits totaling $50 a year.
  • In 2016, the per-housing unit wastewater discount for multi-family residences will be increased $2 a month.
  • In 2017, an additional discount will be applied. The City Council is evaluating options for additional discounts in this year.

The lowest 20 percent of indoor water users will be determined based on water use during the winter, when most water use is for indoor purposes. 2015 credits will be based on 2014 usage.

Water use will be recalculated annually, and customers who receive the credit may be different from year to year. Credits will be distributed in equal monthly amounts over the year.

Customers can take steps this winter to reduce their indoor water usage and possibly qualify for the discount in the future. Customers can find information on indoor water-saving products and tips on the City's web site and on the Environmental Protection Agency's site.

The program also will benefit the City's Water Wastewater Utility:

  • Reducing flows to the City's wastewater treatment plant lowers annual operating costs and, over time, allows the City to accommodate growth without increasing the size of its wastewater collection and treatment systems.
  • Reducing indoor water usage also will help the City achieve its water use efficiency goals. In April, the City Council approved new water use efficiency goals, including a goal of 0.5 percent reductions in indoor residential water use annually.

The City will pay for the discounts with savings generated through lower costs of borrowing. The City is selling $200 million in utility revenue bonds to pay for capital improvements that will improve the health of the Spokane River.

Historic low interest rates – bolstered by high ratings on the City's revenue bonds and the City's environmentally beneficial designation of green bonds – are expected to generate savings of about $1.5 million annually over original estimates.