‘You have to take the hit, but where’s it going to end?’

Some Friday Harbor residents expect to tighten their belts more — and do away with extras — to meet the costs of escalating utility rates

By Maddie Leiren

Utility bills for town residents are likely going to climb. The question is, how much? And how will residents pay some of the highest utility rates in the state?

Estimates indicate that in 2015, your town utility bill could be at least $50 more a month than it is now, totaling $2,400 per year. It’s not going to be easy for many Friday Harbor residents like Mary Paterson, who will have to work hard to make ends meet.

“Too high, it’s not necessary to raise them,” Paterson said of utility rates. Paterson, who works at Roy’s Drive-Thru, said she’ll cut back on clothes, extras and going out to eat to make sure her bills are paid. She also noted that grocery store prices and transportation costs are going up.

“The tourist season will be better for businesses making more money in summertime … It’ll be better for me because I’ll be making more money, so I can afford it.”

The Town Council is considering raising water, sewer and stormwater rates through 2015 to raise $19.2 million for utility improvements:

– Replacing an aging water transmission line.

— Building a pump station at Hillview Terrace.

— Raising the height of Trout Lake Dam.

— Replacing a decaying shoreline sewer main with an upland sewer main.

— Installing underground stormwater pipes.

Water rates are projected to go up 9 percent in 2009, an additional 5 percent in 2010, and 3 percent more through 2015. Stormwater bills would increase by 14.3 percent in 2009, 8.18 percent in 2010-12, and an additional 3 percent from 2013-15.

The current average utility bill for town residents is about $180 per month. That cost will increase by about $20 by 2010, and an additional $30 by 2015.

“You have to take the hit, but where’s it going to end?” said Janet Olsen, the Friday Harbor Middle and High School band teacher. “We’ll just have to save. We’re already very sparing.”

Olsen added, “It’s going to become where people of the working class will have to have two incomes to make it … People are going to be taking a look at any above-board expenses … I just feel like the outcome here is bleak.”

Olsen and Paterson agreed that the cost of island life will be geared more toward wealthy people in the future and that, for families with lower incomes, moving to the mainland could be a likely option.

Kevin Widmayer of Vic’s Drive-In agreed. “The population number will remain the same, but the mixture of the population will change.” He believes only families with higher incomes will be able to take the hit of bills going up.

“It’s a correction in the market that probably has been needed for a while,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to affect tourist season. People don’t know what the price was yesterday; their impression doesn’t have a basis.”