Councilmember Says Burien Residents Are Overpaying Seattle City Light

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by Ralph Nichols

Seattle City Light is charging Burien and other suburban ratepayers – residential and commercial – more than it costs the utility to provide their electricity.

And, says Burien City Councilman Jack Block Jr., this inequity must change.

When council members review at tonight’s meeting (Monday, Oct. 4) their priorities for the 2011 Legislature, Block wants them to include a request to make City Light accountable to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC).

“Burien ratepayers [served by City Light] are paying to subsidize Seattle’s budget,” Block told The B-Town Blog on Oct. 2 – echoing comments he made at the Sept. 27 council meeting when he first raised this issue.

“The money that Seattle City Light is charging us in excess of its costs is costing Burien residents hundreds of dollars a year. That takes food out of the mouths of families and impedes economic progress by impacting local businesses.

“Families are faced with a hard choice of keeping their lights on or feeding their families. Seattle should not be allowed to improve its third-world infrastructure on the backs of City Light ratepayers – especially those ratepayers who live outside Seattle.

“That’s why we need this policy” of WUTC oversight of City Light, he added.

Following a court ruling that Seattle may not assess a utility tax on ratepayers outside the city limits, Block said Seattle imposed a 6 percent surcharge on non-resident utility customers.

“Utility customers outside the city’s corporate boundary are paying to subsidize Seattle’s budget,” he charged. “No one has called them on this. Mayor McGinn’s new rates [proposed for 2011] will go directly to balance Seattle’s budget.”

Burien City Councilmember Jack Block Jr. at his swearing-in ceremony. Photo by Scott Schaefer.

McGinn proposed utility rate increases last week to help reduce Seattle’s budget deficit. If approved, they would increase the monthly cost of power from City Light by $2.13 and the cost of water by $1.10.

City Light – the ninth largest electrical utility in America – is also making about 70 percent less than anticipated from sales of excess energy.

“Seattle City Light is a public utility,” Block noted. “It has no oversight by the WUTC like private utilities have. And unlike a public utility district or local sewer or water districts, it doesn’t have commissioners elected by the ratepayers.

“Rates are set by the city council. But customers outside Seattle have no say in how rates are set or what rate hikes should be. So when Seattle City Light raised rates by 18.3 percent earlier this year, Burien residents had no say.”

Now, he said, a 0.5 percent across-the-board City Light rate increase is coming this month, and if McGinn’s proposed hikes are approved the cost of power will go up another 4.3 percent next year and 4.2 percent in 2012.

“That’s why I want the Legislature to bring Seattle City Light under the jurisdiction of the WUTC, just like Puget Sound Energy is, so that Burien residents will have a say in how rates are set including rate hikes.”

Block wants enabling legislation that will bring under the jurisdiction of the WUTC public utilities like City Light, with customers located outside their corporate boundaries, so they may bill non-resident ratepayers only for the actual costs of providing service.

Although he is “in discussions” with Burien City Manager Mike Martin “about how to move forward with this if the council decides to go with this policy,” Block has not talked with legislators.

“First of all, I want to get my ducks in a row in our city. I will say that other elected officials beyond Burien consider this a serious inequity that affects not only Burien but other residents throughout the region that are served by City Light.”

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4 Responses to “Councilmember Says Burien Residents Are Overpaying Seattle City Light”
  1. Eaton B. Verz says:

    “The money that Seattle City Light is charging us in excess of its costs is costing Burien residents hundreds of dollars a year. That takes food out of the mouths of families and impedes economic progress by impacting local businesses.

    But it’s fine to charge us a car tab tax we don’t want….In my experience I’ve always recieved good service from City Light.. a lot better than the sevice I recieve from any City of Burien dept/person. Still waiting for our animal control to return my call (10 days and counting) Maybe we could use the money we save on electricity and use it to help the residents around lake Burien get rid of their algea !

    • feral dog says:

      Think of the alternative brother,, Picture this,,
      Burien city light.. (with a picture of the town square on thier trucks doors)
      Their slogan could be, “will the last person leaving please turn off the lights”.
      or maybe keep it simple,, “got lites?”.
      Actually, I `m with big jack block on this one though, we are getting what amounts to almost a surcharge it seems. Or is it just another, the price we pay for getting annexed..

  2. Eaton B. Verz says:

    You have a point Dog. I just think we get what we pay for. Which is more than I can say about most sevices in B-town. Can you imagine the cluster if the council decided to PRODUCE the juice? Hey, we could covert the condos into a power plant!! It could run on the emmisions coming fron city hall…..

  3. Paula Laschober says:

    With all due respect to Councilmember Block, who may not be aware of the history behind the higher electric rates paid by suburban customers served by Seattle City Light, the City of Burien negotiated a franchise agreement with Seattle City Light (signed in early 1999) that provided that a portion of the revenue which Seattle City Light derived from the power portion of service to Burien residents would be paid to the City of Burien. City Light transfers funds under this agreement to the City of Burien monthly, which I assume is used for City of Burien purposes that benefit the citizens of that city. Therefore, City Light charges Burien customers more than City of Seattle customers, but the extra money does not go into City of Seattle or City Light coffers. It does not “subsidize Seattle’s budget.”

    Paula J. Laschober
    Finance Director
    Seattle City Light

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