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City Administrator: Doubling utility rates may be necessary

Snippet of a City of Ferndale utility invoice (March 15, 2017). Photo: My Ferndale News

Ferndale City Council is scheduled to discuss at Monday’s City Council meeting whether or not to approve a contract to hire a consulting firm to do an analysis and make recommendations for how to adjust City of Ferndale utility rates in order to cover costs associated with providing those services. City staff recently announced they are faced with about $30-million in new project costs associated with providing water, sewer and stormwater services in addition to the ongoing maintenance and operations costs.

In January, city staff published a request for qualifications from consultants in a search for a resource to hire that could analyze and make recommendations for future utility rates.

The contract calls for the city to spend about $140,000 with the consultants, FCS Group with an office in Redmond, Washington. The cost is expected to be paid with money from 3 city utility funds; water, sewer and stormwater. Public Works Director Kevin Renz he would expect the analysis to be completed by August of this year.

Renz told Finance & Administration Committee members on Wednesday, March 13th, “We have been modifying rates within our utilities over a number of years as an in-house exercise but I think taking a comprehensive well thought out look at the financials associated with the utility funds and making sure that the rate structure incorporates all the necessary components so that we are positioning ourselves to be successful in the future. What we are bumping up against now is the decisions that have been made are not letting us be successful where we are now.”

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City Administrator Jori Burnett said during the same committee meeting this was something the city should have done nearly a decade ago. “This should have been wrapped up as part of our comprehensive plan in 2016. Staff that were here did not want to do it so they didn’t do it. This staff wants to do it but with their current workload they would not be able to get to it.” Renz estimated it would take staff over 2 years to complete the same analysis and make recommendations.

Burnett said, “We might be looking at doubling our rates. There is some very scary considerations if we did look exclusively at rates [as the only funding source] if we couldn’t get any outside money.”

Renz pointed out there will be options to consider. “Maybe we utilize refunds in the early years until we get to the rate level we need to be at.”

Discussion of the utility rate study contract begins at about 31:00 in the audio record of the meeting.

March 13, 2019 City of Ferndale Finance & Administration Council Committee meeting audio.


  1. howard cummings March 17, 2019

    One more step in forcing the middle class and working poor out of Ferndale.
    Should I be using more than a quarter of my pay, solely for utilities every month?

  2. mike c wise March 17, 2019

    mike wise maybe they should cut back on all the project they have going on

  3. M. Gray March 17, 2019

    For those of us on a fixed income what a disaster that would be.
    For some on minimum wage already struggling what a disaster, maybe going back and having private wells would be the answer.
    Ferndale is three times higher already in utilitie costs from some cities.

  4. Brian Jones March 17, 2019

    Maybe it’s time a REAL council is elected. One that can make sound decisions. Maybe a REAL mayor too, Ferndale has had retired SeaBee, a plumber and a preacher. Time for a mayor with mayoral experience.

  5. Elaine Milam March 17, 2019

    Ferndale wants to continue to price us long time residents out of their city. The elimination of the reduction on summer rates last year which increased my bill to an unmanageable amount and now you mention doubling our rates? I guess my husband and I will never retire here. He just went back to work at 67 years because we can hardly make ends meet. This lovely community is becoming too expensive!

  6. Aron Thompson March 17, 2019

    We’re on our meandering way to being transformed into a mini-Seattle, as their city “planning” plainly shows; slowly but surely they’ll push ordinary working folks out, plus make us pay for the process. Watch what happens to our downtown over the next few years as it morphs into a baby Bellingham…

  7. Harold Smithy March 18, 2019

    Absolutely disgusting and alarming that those “in charge” would even consider such a disastrous change!! Shows how little they think of all the “regular people” and working class already burdened with a maddening succession of never ending tax hikes here, there, and everywhere.

    Meanwhile these fat cat city employees and city council types give themselves hefty raises and bonuses like clockwork, while talking about budget shortfalls and the need to raise taxes. The bigger picture is coming into focus, and it’s not looking pretty.

    They don’t care about building a prosperous, stable community where families can thrive. No, it’s beginning to look like our local politicians and city officials are the Get-Rich-Quick type, using other people’s money! The taxpayers are just so much cattle to them, to be controlled, steered, and used to the fullest extent possible, then discarded conveniently when their ends have been achieved.

    I’ve lived here a long time, and we’ve had FAR BETTER leaders in the past, leaders who actually cared, and looked for real solutions to problems that produced the best results for everyone, not just themselves at the expense of everyone else!

    Ferndale deserves much better leadership than this. This is a DISGRACE.

  8. Riley Sweeney March 18, 2019

    Riley with the City here. I know the headline sounds scary, that’s part of why we want to do the rate study. We know what needs to be built to keep our water system running strong (the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant, connecting the new wellhead, etc). What we don’t know is what is the best way to pay for it.

    Many of these water projects (the treatment plant, the new wellhead) would need to happen whether we had 200 new neighbors or zero, it’s simply a function of aging infrastructure.

    The utility rate study is part of figuring that out, but we will also need to hear from you – what is the most fair and appropriate way to provide for our water infrastructure. As the rate study provides us options, we will be soliciting your feedback on how to make this work.

    While that is in progress, city staff is vigorously pursuing federal and state funding to help so we do not have to shoulder the entire cost.

    These are hard choices and I urge everyone to stay engaged, keep asking good questions and sharing your thoughts with your elected officials as we move forward on this issue.

    • Aron Thompson March 19, 2019

      If “ageing infrastructure” is the fundamental issue as you state, then this would have been cause for the City to:

      A). Not approve new development/building that would further strain already struggling resources, or…
      B). Require builders to pay for improvements/enhancements to the infrastructure they will be further straining.

      As it is now, builders/developers seeking a profit are being subsidized by regular residents who are struggling to pay bills. Utterly unfair.

  9. Harold Smithy March 18, 2019

    Why not have more large events (fairs, concerts, festivals, etc.)on city owned land such as parks? Have a chunk of the admission fee go to a fund for these needed water projects/infrastructure? This could also draw a lot of potential extra tourists/travelers and extra spending at local businesses?

    Obviously big events also cost money to coordinate and plan, but you could start small and re-invest the proceeds from the first one or two events, towards the next bigger events, then set aside a portion of the revenues from each successive event towards costs for the next one, while allocating the rest towards the needed projects?

    Even if this meant higher than usual ticket prices for these types of events, I’m sure most local residents would much rather pay an extra $20 or $50 to have several family outings and things to do with friends outdoors this spring/summer, than see their utility bills double by $1,000+ per year?

    Maybe get ahold of some famous bands and invite them, enlist their help for the fundraising.

    Maybe even have a “Woodstock” type concert? 😲

    Really put Ferndale on the map! Everybody’s a winner! 😎

  10. Bruce Jorgensen March 18, 2019

    Developers (and the new land owners and tenants) should foot the bill for any new development. Sewer rates should NOT be tied to the water rates as very little of the gardening water goes into the treatment plant. Storm drain fees should not be calculated by the square footage of any structure that does not drain into the local storm drains. I can’t find a storm drain on my street, and none of my close neighbors tie their roof drains into any “take-away” drainage system.

    As a gardener that uses a major portion of the rain falling on my structures in my garden and does not put one drop of rain on any structure down into the city storm drains, I feel the city is trying to do the easiest thing for the city and incorrectly billing land owners who do not increase the burden on the city. Let those that use storm drains pay that bill. The city currently doubles my summer gardening water bill by saying that all used water goes down the sewer, when in truth the sewer receives none of the summer increase in water usage. Cities like Seattle use the expedient of basing the year long sewer rate upon the NON-WATERING months (November to February) to calculate their expedient billing, as the number of toilet flushes and bathtub drainings is based on the number of bodies living in the home, not the choice to grow vegetable and yard plants in the summer months.

  11. Ryan Walter March 18, 2019

    Please explain how things got this bad to begin with. Much money has been paid over many years. How was it spent? Where did it go? Who made the decisions along the way?

    Enough is enough. It’s time for the taxpayer and ratepayer to push back. Hard.

    • Harold Haynie March 19, 2019

      Does it make sense that water consumption is on the rise because of all the new housing being built in Ferndale. Who is responsible for this new well business, why didn’t we stay with the PUD?

  12. mike c wise March 18, 2019

    mike wise I agree with bruce j and ryan walter

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