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Guest Column by Town of Friday Harbor Mayor Ray Jackson

  • Written by Mayor Raymont C. Jackson

To: Residents of the Town of Friday Harbor

Re: Message from the Mayor | Utility Rate Increases

When I ran for Office of Mayor in 2021, I made a promise that if elected, I would be open about issues that matter to you – for good or for worse, the hard truth. Therefore, in keeping with my commitment, I am offering my opinion as Mayor regarding upcoming utility rate increases. It is important that the citizens of this Town understand the difficult task that the Town faces when it comes to balancing the costs to provide safe potable water and sewer treatment to you, the rate payors.

The Town of Friday Harbor has a unique situation in running its own utilities for water and sewer. I call it unique because it is rare to find municipalities of this size or population owning and running their own self-sustaining water and sewer facilities because of the tremendous costs for operations and capital improvements.

The Town of Friday Harbor currently has a population of approximately 2700 residents, roughly 900 households. These 900 households plus our downtown business and out-of-town water customers support these systems.

Larger municipalities are able to lower monthly bills by spreading services across a larger customer base. Other common models include the creation of utility districts, partnering with neighboring municipalities through interlocal agreements for mutual support, delegating responsibilities to outside agencies, and downright buying and selling finished product or treatment services. Friday Harbor rarely has opportunities to partner with neighboring municipalities to reduce costs because of the logistics owing to our geography.

This and past Councils have been dilegent to save for capital projects while operating the utilites as lean as possible to provide relief to the rate payer. Since year 2008 through the pandemic, the Town has kept with minimal rate increases, often half or zero of the increases recommended by Town’s financial consultants for these utilities. This effort has resulted in low reserves for upcoming capital projects.

Town is now required to build improvements at both the Water and Wastewater Treatment Plants per State regulations. These include a fourth industrial filter at the Water Treatment Plant to keep with increasing water demands and to satisfy regulations concerning our capacity to serve you. And various new concrete basins and other structures are needed at the Wastewater Treatment Plant to augment the current treatment process and increase efficiency.

This Administration understands the frustration that many of you may feel when the Town considers utility rates. I realize that any increase creates a tough situation for some households. However, continuing down the current path for our water and sewer utilities is not prudent or sustainable for the financial health of your utilites.

I have every confidence in the Town Council and you have my word as Mayor, that the utility rate structure is being carefully evaluated to keep rates as low as possible, while also saving for capital improvements. We are fortunate to have these modern systems and need to remember that it is up to all of us to support and maintain them. Thank you for your understanding.

Please contact me or my staff if you would like more information or to provide comments on this issue.

Island Strong!

Mayor Raymont C. Jackson