Opposition delays Cheney connection charge increase
Last updated 3/26/2020 at 11:22am
CHENEY – A city proposal to increase the water system development charge paid by developers ran into a bit of opposition at the March 10 meeting of the City Council.
Developer Ryan Geschke took issue with the city’s plans — proposed after consultant’s study — to raise the amount developers pay as a one-time charge on a development as a condition of providing utility service. Geschke claimed the city was potentially following a “no-growth policy” by adopting rates that would put it above the city of Spokane when it came to installing a 1-inch residential connection and above Spokane and Liberty Lake with a 2-inch multifamily connection.
According to information from the city, the system development charge is calculated by dividing the allocable cost of the system by the system’s capacity. The latter is determined by using a system’s “equivalent residential unit” (ERU), which according to Cheney’s water plan is 610 gallons per day.
Spread between source, storage, distribution and general plant capacity, the city has 7,364 ERUs available, with a total water system utility existing cost of $15.1 million. The formula produces a new system development charge of $2,536 for a new 1-inch single-family residential connection — a significant increase over the existing charge of $843.
Cheney’s 2-inch multifamily residential connection charge would jump from $1,555 to $19,032. By comparison, Spokane’s 1-inch residential charge is $1,232 while it’s 2-inch charge is $3,485. Deer Park’s 2-inch charge is $3,356 and Liberty Lake’s charge is $10,000.
The new connection cost increases substantially with larger connections, running from $5,760 per 1-inch meter — compared to the current $1,078 — up to a charge of $115,204 for a 6-inch connection — compared to $4,925.
Geschke said Cheney was chasing the rate structure of West Plains neighbor Airway Heights, who has a 1-inch charge of $4,065 and a 2-inch charge of $21,679. Airway Heights has the business and location to support such charges, he added, while Cheney does not.
“You drive through downtown (Cheney) and it’s empty,” Geschke added.
In council discussion on the proposed resolution, Councilwoman Teresa Overhauser said in support of the measure the changes were backed by “math and science.” She added the city’s comprehensive plan states development should pay for itself, and while “too bad” the rates were taking such a jump, noting they were a long time in coming.
“Somebody’s been getting a deal for 20 years and now they’re taking a hit,” Overhauser added.
Councilman Paul Schmidt said the changes were needed to protect the city’s strained water supply system, but that they had the option to determine what developer’s pay.
“Should development pay for development or should ratepayers pay for development?” Schmidt asked. “It’s one or the other.
According to state law, the charge must be based on an “equitable share of the cost of the system” so a jurisdiction can recover impacts to a system’s capacity and share costs among all users. The law also requires the charge be in addition to the cost of the connection itself.
Geschke found an ally of sorts in Councilman John Taves, who while understanding the need for the increases, didn’t want to vote to approve them until he knew more about why the city of Spokane’s — with a larger population and business base — rates were less than Cheney’s proposal.
“If the cost justifies the higher level, I don’t have a problem with that,” Taves said. “But I have to be able to defend my vote. I don’t feel that I can right now and I don’t feel council can either.”
Council agreed to defer the vote – which they also did at the Feb. 25 meeting – until staff could answer Taves’ question.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.