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McCleary residents will be paying more for utility bills

MCCLEARY — Ratepayers in McCleary will be paying a bit more for their power bills this year.

The McCleary City Council adopted a resolution last week boosting the rates by about 3 percent to their city-owned power utility. Unlike the rest of the Harbor, which is serviced by the Grays Harbor PUD, the city owns their own power utility.

The new rates call for a charge of 7.4 cents per kilowatt hour, up from the old rate of 7.2 cents per kilowatt hour. The city will still have a $7.05 meter charge. That means a small home billed at 2,000 kilowatt hours had been charged $151.05 and would see a $4 increase to $155.05.

The city will still charge a $15 minimum fee.

As a comparison, the Grays Harbor PUD would charge $180.55 for 2,000 kilowatt hours on a bill. The PUD bills a bit differently, charging a flat $38.97 fee, then 1.2 cents per kilowatt hour for the first 360 hours and 8.37 cents for each hour after that.

McCleary Mayor Gary Dent pointed out that there’s widespread rumor that the city charges much more for the electricity than elsewhere in the region, but he says that’s just not so.

The problem, Dent says, is that the city sends one bill that ends up being pretty high because it contains power, water and sewer rates.

Realtor Helen Lake, who used to serve on the city council and still keeps close tabs on the city administration, says that the real culprit for the sky high bills is the city’s sewer and water bills, which she points out is so out of whack with what other cities are paying, it’s been raising eye brows for years.

She points out that the average sewer bill in McCleary is about $80 compared to about $39 in Elma and $29 in Montesano; and the average water bill in McCleary is $64 per month compared to about $20 per month in Elma and $21 per month in Montesano. She used numbers based on last year’s figures before rate adjustments went into effect.

“Approximately seven years ago, the new sewer system came to McCleary, we were told by experts that our sewer bill would only be about $30 to $35 per month in order to pay back the loan and keep operating,” Lake said. “Then, sometime later, we were told a mistake was made in the figures and calculations and now we need more money, about double.”

The McCleary City Council increased the rates for both sewer and water by 3 percent in their 2014 budget.

Dent said that the city had no choice but to raise the rates for water and sewer to pay off debt owed on construction projects.

Councilman Brent Schiller was the lone councilman to vote against the rate increase, noting that the city is taking money out of the power fund to shore up gaps in its operational funds. If the city didn’t need to take that money, he argued, the rate hike would have been less. He says the city ought to balance its budget without leaning on ratepayers.

Dent said that the money out of the power fund is being used “because I don’t want to see this city go broke.” Dent is already talking about other cuts the city may need to do next year on top of laying off a police officer and police clerk and reducing hours to their building inspector, which were all done this year.

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