Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Potential water rate increase and Library relocation top agenda at Cashmere City Council meeting


CASHMERE - A potential rate increase for water usage and the move of the library to the Riverside Center were primary topics of discussion during the Jan. 22 Cashmere City Council meeting.

Director of Operations Steve Croci informed the Council that during the extremely cold weather, the new water meters were able to detect water line bursts or leaks on the private property side of the meter, including one that was undetected by the property owner, leaking at a rate of 4,000 gallons per hour. He said that city staff could quickly contact property owners with up-to-date phone numbers on file with the city.

He emphasized that residents should contact the city to confirm that the city has their correct contact information since it is super helpful for city staff to make timely contact in the event of a water issue at the house or business.

Mayor Jim Fletcher told the Council that everyone in town knows that wastewater rates are high and that we want the public to know we are discussing the wastewater and water rates and the city’s budget needs. He explained that he and city staff had been examining the capital project needs for the next six years, what projects to plan for, and what will be needed to maintain the facilities.

Fletcher reminded council members that the city’s policy is to increase the wastewater rate by 2% each year. He added that no change is anticipated with those rates for the next couple of years. However, Fletcher told the Council that the wastewater capital fund is gradually being depleted, so at some point, it will get to a point where we do not want it to drop any lower. Fletcher suggested that $1,000,000 would be a good level to cover unseen expenses, adding that some of the pumps at lift stations can be $50,000 - $60,000 each and that repairs to underground sewer lines can be very costly.

“Water is a different story,” Fletcher said. He explained that the city has not adequately funded the water capital reserves for the past couple of years. The Mayor continued that he and city staff are looking at water revenues and expenses to determine what it will take to sustain water capital reserves. According to city policy, water rates increase by 4% per year. According to Fletcher, that is not enough to build or maintain the reserve funds. He told council members that the minimum amount he would like to have in the reserve budget is $500,000 or greater. He warned that repairs and replacements could be costly, and the city could quickly go through a half million dollars. According to Director of Operations Steve Croci, rehabbing, adding, or moving a pressure-reducing valve can cost $250,000.

During their discussion, the Council utilized a spreadsheet to examine the impacts of different rate increases on reserve funds and resident’s water bills. Using an 8% water rate increase as an example, he showed the Council that the reserve funds would diminish over time. 

Council member Jeff Johnson asked what rate would be needed to reach a sustainable balance. Fletcher replied that an annual 8% increase would get there in a couple of years. Croci added that inflation is part of the issue and that during part of the COVID pandemic, the annual rate increase was postponed, which did not allow the city to keep up with costs. Fletcher clarified that operating budget costs are fine but that building and maintaining the reserve funds that will be needed for maintenance and large projects is the issue.

Fletcher wrapped up the discussion by stating that the planning was still a work in progress and that discussions would continue before he makes a final recommendation.

Barbara Walters, Executive Director of North Central Washington Libraries (NCWL), provided the Council with a description of the library’s plans for moving into the Riverside Center. Council members all expressed their support for the library. 

According to Walters, the partnership between the city and the NCWL began in the early 1980s when city residents voted to join the library district that had begun in the 1960s. Based on statistics cited by Walter, Cashmere is one of the top 5 most utilized branches out of the 30 NCWL locations. Over 20,000 patrons visited the Cashmere Library in 2023, checking out over 40,000 physical items. The local librarians led 220 programs and participated in over 34 off-site events with 15+ partners.

She said the library is excited to move into the 5000 sq. ft. Riverside Center, which is about 2000 sq. ft larger than the existing site. 

In response to questions from Mayor Fletcher about the types of programs that may be planned, Walters responded that the space will be designed to provide flexibility. This would include mobile shelving that can modify the physical space for larger events like community gatherings or smaller meetings. She added that libraries are no longer just about books; they also provide a place where people can use and come together.

Fletcher also asked about the time frame. Walters replied that a team is working on that and that there will be communication with the city and at least two community engagements to obtain information about what the community wants. She said the design would be a very collaborative approach.

She explained to the Council that as part of an existing agreement between the library and Cashmere, NCWL reimburses the city $4.00 per square foot to assist with some of the maintenance costs for the city-owned facility. John Perry expressed his support for the library but also his concern about the business arrangement. He explained that the rate the library would be paying for the use of the building is the lowest revenue the city has had for the Riverside Center in a decade. He said his family uses the library, but he is struggling with how the cost makes financial sense for the city.

The Council unanimously approved a bid for the repair of the Riverside Center’s HVAC system. Croci told the Council that the repair should be completed by mid-June.

Mayor Fletcher updated the Council about the Athletic Field Study that is promoted as part of the potential regional aquatic center. The study identified Riverside Park as a potential location for a sports field. Fletcher had previously explained that the park is built on an old landfill and would not be a good location. Fletcher suggested that the project is putting out neat projects in locations around the area so that people will vote for the regional sports complex.


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