News Column

City of Winlock Increases Fees for Sewer, Water Hookups

June 18, 2014

By Christopher Brewer, The Chronicle, Centralia, Wash.

June 18--Winlock's city council has voted to raise the fees for new hookups into its water and sewer systems both inside and outside the city, but are still trying to work out details as to the rest of the city's ordinance governing the fees for water and sewer services in general.

Councilors voted June 9 to raise the fees for water hookups in the city from $2,500 to $3,000 and outside the city from $3,800 to $4,000. Sewer hookup fees will increase from $3,500 to $4,000.

Mayor Lonnie Dowell told The Chronicle the increased hookup fee is a way for the city of Winlock to generate revenue and help keep its cash reserves steady to satisfy requirements of a loan needed for the $12.5 million wastewater treatment plant that was built a few years ago.

"We're getting a little more money for capital improvement as well as staying below the cost of moving into surrounding cities," Dowell said.

The city council has been working for weeks to revamp the city's ordinance governing fees. Councilors in late May approved raising late payment penalties from $20 to $25, reconnection fees after service shutoff to $50, and bounced check fees from $30 to $35.

City leaders will soon tackle the portion of the ordinance dealing with connections declared abandoned. Dowell has proposed what he calls a dormant fee, requiring people who shut off their water but ask for it to be reconnected before a 24-month time period to pay half the base fee of $275 bimonthly as a way of still paying into the system.

It's a sore spot for Dowell, who didn't mince his words when talking about the situation. He estimates about 30 to 40 houses in town that are currently unoccupied, meaning residents who do pay into the system are footing a higher portion of the bill -- and the city isn't getting revenue from property owners that still have to pay taxes on that property.

"All I'm trying to propose is for these property owners to pay their fair share. I don't care if the bank owns the property, I don't care if it's the President. They need to pay their fair share," Dowell said. "If you want to live in Winlock, you've got to pay your water and sewer bill, but if not, then sell your house. We put the plant in here and we need to pay for it."

Winlock's mayor said he wants to attract new residents and businesses to the city, but he and his fellow councilors need to figure a balance between keeping the city financially healthy and maintaining a quality of life in the south Lewis County town. He says the town is losing out on more than $60,000 in revenue from people who don't pay on properties they own, and that hurts the city greatly.

"I understand we're a low income community, but that's a heck of a lot of money we're not getting," Dowell said. "The last thing I want to do is raise rates, but if we don't do something in order to get these homes paying a bit, we might not have a choice but to do so."

City council is expected to discuss the proposal at their next meeting June 22 at 6:30 p.m. at Winlock City Hall.

Christopher Brewer: (360) 807-8235


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Source: Chronicle, The (Centralia, WA)

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