Spokane Residents Revolt Over High Water Bills

SPOKANE, Wash. - If you've noticed a higher water bill this month than you're used to seeing you're not alone. The City of Spokane has received more than 2,000 complaints about the tiered water system as bills from the summer are being delivered.

This year, each unit is defined as 748 gallons. If you only use four units, you'll pay 20 cents per unit. But if you're a heavy user, and use more than 45 units, each unit will cost $1.85 per unit, an increase of 90 cents more per unit than last year.

City spokesperson Marlene Feist says the system has been in place since the beginning of the year, but the reason people are taking notice now is because we had a late rainy spring and most of the heavy outdoor water use happened in the last two months.

Tamara McGregor's average water bill used to cost her $125. The most she ever paid was $400 last summer because her family had a leaking pipe which she then fixed.

"I expected we'd have a significant decrease in our bill, even knowing the rates were going to be higher," McGregor said.

But it didn't. McGregor's recent bill actually doubled to almost $800.

"I was horrified; I mean it was just awful," she said.

She thinks the city should warn homeowners if bill spikes are going to continue popping up in mailboxes.

"You need to empower your customers with the tools to monitor your usage in real-time, not two months after the fact," she said.

Unfortunately, the city doesn't have the technology in place to hook up to meters to provide real-time data, Feist said.

Feist added that under the new system, if you use more you'll pay more per gallon. She claims that 60-percent of Spokane residents' bills have dropped since last year.

However, since this summer, the city has received two-thousand complaints.

"But even with that help, we're still hearing from people who think that the shift has been too dramatic," Feist said.

Now the city council may reconstruct the rate system after the public outcry, and instead of big price jumps between the number of gallons used, they would be little jumps.

"The council thought they came up with a reasonable solution, and they've heard from citizens so they're willing to revisit the issue," Feist said.

McGregor is just hoping she - and the 2,000 other upset water users in Spokane city limits - will have their concerns by City Hall.

"This is not a good economy, and to get an $800 surprise? And whatever people are getting whether it's $400 surprises or $1000 surprises isn't ideal," she said.

The city council will have a reading on the new proposal next Monday with a public hearing to be held on October 31. At that time a vote can be taken on the proposal.