Centralia City Light

Centralia City Light workers repair an electrical pole on Tower Avenue in August 2013. 

Customers of Centralia City Light will see higher rates on their August bills after the Centralia City Council approved new increases with a 5-2 vote on Tuesday night.

The overall rate will increase by 4.8 percent each year for three years. Residents will see about a $4 increase on their fixed rates.

That amount could drop to about a 3 percent increase if Centralia City Light is awarded a Coal Transition Grant through TransAlta that it recently applied for. The money would be used for the construction of the Salzer Substation to make it earthquake resistant and also help provide electricity for the proposed Centralia Station project.

ML Norton, general manager of Centralia City Light, said the money was needed in large part because of three reasons the utility has no control over, such as the Salzer substation, Bonneville Power Administration rate increases and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s requirements for the Yelm Hydro Plant, a diversion dam used by the city.

Councilors Peter Abbarno and Joyce Barnes voted in opposition to the increase. They were also the only councilors to vote against the measure at the first reading of the rate increase.

Barnes, who rents out several properties in Centralia, said now is not the time for an increase. In 2015, she received more than 51 disconnect notices delivered to her renters, a sign she said shows people simply cannot afford the increase.

“We have so many people that are just a breath away from being homeless, and it isn’t that I charge real high rent,” she said. “…These people are struggling, so I just have to vote no.”

Barnes said she believes there are ways Centralia City Light could reduce some of its expenditures.

Abbarno voiced similar concerns, stating he does not think all options were explored thoroughly before the rate increase was proposed. He said many in the community, including small businesses, struggle already, and an increase could put them nto the red.

“While I appreciate the project, and I support wholeheartedly the object of what you are trying to do … the funding is what I have an issue with,” Abbarno said, adding that rate increases should be a last resort after every available grant has been applied for.

Other councilors who voted in favor of the measure said the increases had to happen to help keep the city’s utility financially stable.

“I’m for it. I don’t like it, but I think it’s something we have to do,” Councilor John Elmore said, adding that the infrastructure needed to be in place to help the community thrive.

The rate increase is the result of a study conducted by The FCS Group. In the first reading of the rate increases, Norton said without a hike Centralia City Light would not be able to maintain normal operations while funding the projects.

Qualified low-income seniors and disabled people residing in single-family dwellings with a household income of $25,000 per year or less will not be subject to pay the increases.

For an application form, go online to www.cityofcentralia.com, or in person to Centralia City Light.

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