The Vader City Council has been informed on an ongoing rate study for their sewer system, which is intended to analyze how the city is expending funds versus how they are charging customers.
Discussed during a workshop held by the council on Thursday night, RosAnna Noval, an environmental rural development specialist for California-based non-profit Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC), gave the council a brief overview of what the study would entail and how the city would be involved.
According to Noval, RCAC is spending three-to-six months working with city staff to evaluate how Vader is spending money to operate and maintain its lagoon-style sewer system, then comparing those figures to customer rates and determining if they are too high, too low or if certain customer classes need to be amended. It was emphasized the intention of the study is not necessarily to justify lower rates, but to better-inform officials in their manage of the system.
Noval added the cost for the study, which began in March, is being covered entirely by the State Department of Ecology, who had allocated part of their budget to help small communities undergo rate studies, and the city will not have to pay for any part of the evaluation.
During conversations with the council, Noval asked what their priorities are for the system, noting affordability would likely be a significant factor. Every member of the council said they would describe affordability of their rates as their top priority, with Council Member Kevin Flynn stating one of the main reasons people move to Vader is because the cost of living is "economical."
"If we change that, then we will lose people," he said.
Cathi Read, of the State Department of Commerce, added she would encourage the city to continue pursuing the study, given the council's need to display they can adequately manage a public utility as a conduction to receive their water system back from Lewis County, and a study evaluating their sewer system would go a long way.
"I think that Department of Health will be looking at exactly those questions," she said of the information to be gathered during the study.
A similar analysis was concluded earlier this year in Winlock, with Noval overseeing that evaluation, as well. During a presentation of RCAC's findings on April 27, Noval told the Winlock City Council the reserves for their utilities were significantly under-funded, with a formal recommendation to increase the combined water and sewer rates by at least $18 per month. At the time, Noval noted the funding of reserves was not a state requirement for the city, but rather a matter of industry best practices, with Winlock Mayor Lonnie Dowell asking to see a rate proposal in the final draft of the recommendations with no increases to reserves other than what was required to meet loan obligations.
When the Vader City Council was asked how they might be prepared to respond to a suggested rate increase, Flynn stated he would not offer an answer at that time, indicating the council would wait until a recommendation was before them.
Noval said she will be meeting again with the council June 11 to offer an update, and a determination of whether or not to extend the study will be made around that time.