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

Return to “normal” utility billing has some neighbors peeved

This last winter was hard in many ways including how it impacted the City of Ferndale’s (COF) ability to accurately bill for utilities base on water usage due to frozen over meters. As a result, neighbors saw their invoice totals go up and down during the past 8 months of billings.

This past week, COF utility bills were mailed out based on April and May water usage. Compared with the previous billing for February and March water usage, it reflected a dramatic increase in usage and cost for most.

Sewer rates increased beginning with this billing, but that is a 3% increase and only applies to the sewer rate (not water nor storm drain costs). For some neighbors, they saw far greater increases compared with their last utility billing.

What some may not realize there have been unusual adjustments to COF utility bills since last year’s August to September billing. As a result, this (April to May usage bill) is the first “normal” bill for many.

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The October to November billing was estimated for some neighbors whose meters were frozen over when city workers attempted to read them during the first week of December. For those neighbors, their lowest 2-month water usage during the previous year was used as an estimate instead.

Meters again could not be read for the December to January billing but this time the COF chose to wait two weeks for the ground to thaw instead of making another estimate. This meant everyone’s bill included the actual usage level (which would adjust for the previous low estimate) plus an additional two weeks (~25% more usage days).

Then the February to March bills came out but included only 75% of the typical usage days since the first 2 weeks had been applied to the previous bill.

So now, the April to May bills are here and they are the first “normal” billings (no usage estimates and exactly two months of usage) since last year’s August to September billing. Compared with the last bill, this will be higher for most but that is to be expected given the last billing included only 75% of a regular billing period.

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If, after considering the above, you still are concerned about the billing amount, visit the COF web page dedicated to higher than expected utility bills.

COF utility bills are sent every other month and costs for water, sewer and storm drain fees are included (an additional 9% utility tax is built into the invoiced amounts). Customers outside the City Limits have a 50% surcharge added to their water/sewer charges.

* Storm drain – a fixed bi-monthly amount that changes only when there is a rate change implemented by city council.
* Water – a combination of a base fee plus usage as determined by water meter readings.
* Sewer  – a combination of a base fee plus usage as determined by water meter readings.

As part of the increases to pay for the treatment plant replacement/expansion, this may be the last summer (June to October) when sewer costs will be calculated from previous winter usage amounts. This adjustment has been to account for expected outside water use (e.g. garden watering) that doesn’t end up in the sewer system.

COF utility low-income customers or those who qualify for Whatcom County property tax relief or exemptions can apply for a 25% discount on water, sewer and storm drain utilities provided by COF. Click here for the application.

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