Politics & Government

Tacoma utility increases proposed at city budget meeting

Directors for several Tacoma utilities presented budget plans to City Council Tuesday that include rate increases for all utilities but one in the coming two years.

The highest potential rate increase is for Tacoma’s small municipal cable system, called Click.

Tacoma Public Utilities power superintendent Ted Coates said the cost to buy programming from cable and broadcast networks could increase by $5 million for the next two-year budget. Click has around 20,000 cable customers.

Customers could see a 10 percent rate hike in 2015 and in 2016 to cover that increased cost, said TPU Director Bill Gaines. He stressed that the cable utility is still negotiating with networks and the programming costs could come in lower.

Other utility rates are predicted to rise by the following amounts in each of the next two years: a 4 percent increase for water, 5 percent increase in garbage rates, 6 percent increase in sewer rates and 5.5 percent increase for surface water fees.

The reasons for the rate increases vary, which are happening in utilities managed by TPU and general government.

The cost of power is likely to rise, said power superintendent Ted Coates, because the utility is forecasting a lower than average water year. Much of the region’s power comes from hydroelectric dams, and less water means potentially higher power costs.

Some of the increase for Tacoma Water, projected at a 4 percent increase in each 2015 and 2016, is due to a soon-to-be completed $187 million water filtration plant, said water superintendent Linda McCrea. But the water utility is dipping into reserves to lessen the impact, otherwise customers would see about a 6 percent increase each year, she said.

Only the city’s rail utility will see no increase in 2015, said rail superintendent Dale King. The Port of Tacoma’s container business is booming, King said, and rail is hiring new workers to help accommodate that growth.

“We make a lot of money and we’re not going to spend it all,” King said of rail’s two-year budget.

Rail will decide later whether to change rates in 2016, he said.

If the City Council approves the budget, the rates for wastewater, solid waste and surface water will change on Jan. 1. The costs for Tacoma’s water, power, cable and rail utility will change after the TPU board approves the rate changes, if those increases are also approved by the City Council.