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January 2014
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CityLink Seattle

Have a Say in Your Utilities Future

Five public meetings scheduled around the city, from early February to early March

Girl at drinking fountainStarting next month, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) will be seeking the public’s help in developing a strategic business plan to guide the utility’s investments, services and rates through the year 2020 — with the goal of keeping Seattle one of the best places to live.

Last year, Seattle City Council asked SPU to develop a predictable and transparent six-year business plan for water, sewer and garbage/recycling rates. In creating the strategic plan, the utility was asked to conduct an activity-by-activity evaluation of its spending to identify reasonable future growth in costs and rates.

As a starting point for its discussion with customers, SPU has developed a baseline estimate of the cost of maintaining its operations at current service levels. With no changes in its present business plans, the utility would require rate increases of about 4.7 percent a year, for the next six years. For an average household, utility bills would go from $325 in 2015 to $422 in 2020 — about $16 a year.

The main drivers of those projected baseline rate increases are: inflation, 53 percent; debt payment, 28 percent; contracts, 12 percent; and taxes, 7 percent.

The business plan, which will be presented to the mayor and City Council this summer, will address not only growth in utility rates from a perspective of covering SPU’s operating costs — but also the growth in utility bills from the perspective of customers’ ability to pay.

To gain that public perspective, SPU will be holding a series of community meeting, beginning early next month. The primary goal of the public meetings is to provide direction for the utility — in a way that reflects customer values, provides rate predictability and results in the best value for customer dollars. SPU hopes to engage as many customers as possible and has designed the meetings with the aim of getting public input representative of the city’s demographics and key stakeholders of the utility.

In addition to five general public meetings around the city, SPU will conduct targeted outreach to low-income and African American community members as well as in-language focus groups with Vietnamese, Chinese, Spanish, Somali, and Khmer-speaking communities. The utility will also work to ensure the five general public meetings are accessible to as many communities as possible. These targeted efforts are part of SPU’s commitment to Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative, which works to ensure that all people of the City of Seattle receive equitable services and access to SPU’s decision-making processes.

A nine-person Customer Review Panel has been working since April 2013 to provide guidance on the Strategic Business Plan and to also periodically review SPU’s progress in implementing the plan. Panel members were selected by — and report independently to — the Mayor and City Council.

Public meetings schedule for SPU’s Strategic Business Plan.

Can’t attend a community meeting? Take an online survey and tell us what you think.