Why Seattle's transportation levy could lead to higher utility rates

by: Graham Johnson Updated:

Utility bills in Seattle, which are already rising, could jump even more than expected.

A 2015 voter-approved levy is one reason why.

The Move Seattle levy is raising $930 million for transportation from higher property taxes.

Now, Seattle Public Utilities anticipates spending $247 million more in the next six years to improve aging infrastructure in the corridors that are getting those transportation improvements.

For that, you'd pay more in your utility bill.

"It will ultimately be a cost savings for us to do the work now than to go back and dig the same hole all over again," said Andy Ryan, of Seattle Public Utilities.

SPU officials say the transportation levy is one reason they now don't think they can stick to their plan to raise rates for solid waste, wastewater, drinking water and drainage an average of 4.6 percent a year.

The city now estimates increases will have to average 5.4 to 5.6 percent.

That means a customer who paid an average of $80 a month in 2004, and pays about $180 a month today, could see monthly rates jump to $250 in 2023.

"It seems like it's pretty expensive," said Seattle resident Lynda Dowell, who has seen her utility bill rise, and wonders about the future.

"We're getting closer to retirement. Then what do you do? Then how do you stay in your house? How do you pay for all these different things, which are all valuable,?" Dowell asked.

City Councilmember Lisa Herbold chairs the committee overseeing SPU.

KIRO 7 asked Herbold if Move Seattle driving up utility rates is a hidden cost of the transportation levy.

"I do think it's important the city do a better job in the future of identifying those other departmental projects that might come with transportation projects, what those costs will be to the public," Herbold said.

Another reason rates might go up more than expected is a big combined sewer overflow project in the Ship Canal that now needs be done by 2025.

Formal rate proposals are expected to come before the City Council in June.

Seattle Public Utilities has a utility discount program, in which income-qualified customers can get half off their bills.

A two-person household with a gross yearly income of $41,712 or less is eligible.

Although SPU provided KIRO 7 and the City Council with rate estimates describing average monthly bills, residential customers are billed every other month.

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