Utility Rate Study
Starting in Spring 2023, City utility customers will see an increase in their water, stormwater, and sewer rates. These rate increases come at the recommendation of the Utility Rate Study, which was conducted over the past year by staff and a consultant and was adopted by the City Council in December 2022. The following page explains the rate increases, why we are doing this, and how you can prepare for the changes to your bill.
Funding Future Infrastructure
Over the past several years, the City has had to make significant upgrades to our infrastructure, especially sewer and stormwater. Some of these upgrades are in response to an emergency repair or replacement. Much of Puyallup’s existing stormwater, sewer, and drinking water mains have either reached the end of their life cycle or need replacement within the next ten years. At our current rate of utility revenues, the City will not be able to adequately fund these future projects, which puts us even further behind in funding projects. The City is raising its utility rates for the following reasons.
- Fund the replacement of aging infrastructure.
- Alleviate costly emergency repairs on existing infrastructure.
- Bring our utilities to a comparable rate with other comparable cities.
- Create a long-term, sustainable financial plan for our utilities.
- Ensure our customers have clean, reliable drinking water, toilets keep flushing, and roads are free of flooding due to stormwater backup.
Your utility bill is largely based on your usage. On average, our utility customers consume about 1,100 cubic feet of water every two months. Based on that usage, here is a breakdown of how much additional you’ll pay bi-monthly (every two months).
Water = $6.95
Sewer = $13.59
Stormwater = $6.47*
Total = $27.01
*Stormwater is not based on usage and is charged at a flat rate.
Puyallup utility customers will pay, on average, an extra $27.01 every two months. This comes out to an extra $13.50 per month.
On a percentage basis, this translates to the following increases.
Water – 14.2%
Sewer – 12.2%
Stormwater – 23.2%
Each percentage increase is broken down into two parts: 1) an inflation adjustment of 8.2 percent in 2023, and 2) a “catch-up” increase. Each catch-up rate is different based on the utility. The catch-up rate is exactly what it implies. It is the rate we need to increase to “catch up” with our utility fund requirements.
Industry standards recommend the City does a Utility Rate Study to determine if its rates are comparable with other jurisdictions and to determine if the rates can adequately fund operation and maintenance needs but also capital projects over the course of the following decade. The last comprehensive utility rate study was done in 2010.
In 2021, City staff hired a consultant, HDR Engineering, Inc. to prepare the latest Utility Rate Study. The study looked at the City’s utilities operating budgets, rates, and capital requirements. The study also looked at other similar cities in our region and compared their utility rates to Puyallup’s. Throughout the course of 2021 and 2022, HDR worked with staff and City Council to come up with a financial plan that would allow each utility to generate sufficient revenues, which would fund future capital projects. The goal of the plan is to bring each utility to a prudent, sustainable, and financial model.
During discussions about the Study, City Council weighed various options to fund our utility system and pay for future infrastructure upgrades. The four main options were the following.
- Fund utility system upgrades purely through rate increases.
- Fund the system upgrades through the issuance of debt obligations, such as bonds.
- Fund the upgrades through a combination of rate increases and debt obligations.
- Do nothing at all.
Council recognized the importance of having a safe, reliable public infrastructure for the community. Relying solely on the rate increases would place a huge financial burden on customers. Instead, Council chose to fund the upgrades through a combination of rate increases and issuing bonds. This strategy would allow the City to continue funding essential infrastructure projects while also keeping rate increases at a reasonable level.
How Much More Will I be Paying?
City utility customers can expect an increase in their bi-monthly bill for water, sewer, and stormwater to be as follows. Please note that this is an approximate amount based on the average consumption of 1,100 cubic feet of water. Your actual amount is determined by your usage.
Water = $6.95
Sewer = $13.59
Stormwater = $6.47*
Total = $27.01
Customers can expect an average increase of $27.01 every two months. This comes out to an extra $13.50 per month.
*Stormwater is not based on usage and is charged at a flat rate.
What is this “catch-up” rate that the study refers to?
The “catch-up” rate is exactly what it implies. It is the rate we need to be charging today so that we can catch up on the projects that have been deferred because of insufficient funds. Right now, with just the increase to accommodate for inflation, City capital projects simply cannot be funded at that rate. Costs have increased considerably since 2010. The catch-up rate increase allows the City to ensure our utilities are funded at a financially sustainable level so that replacing aging infrastructure projects can be funded.
When is this Happening?
The rate increases go into effect in February 2023. Customers will see the rate increase in their first bi-monthly bill in April. Not all customers are billed on the same cycle. Please consult your previous billing statement dates to find out exactly when your first bill goes out. For questions, you can contact our Utility Billing division at 253-841-5550.
Why is the City raising my utility rates?
Costs have gone up everywhere, including in the City of Puyallup. With inflation, and the cost of capital projects outpacing revenues to fund them, the City carefully looked at the Utility Rate Study and used it as a basis for our decision to raise rates. In addition to looking at the utility expenses for operation, maintenance, and capital improvement needs, the Study looked at our current utility finances and compared them to other cities in the region. What we found was that our rates were lower than other comparable cities to Puyallup. Keeping these rates low is not financially sustainable. Bringing these rates up to a comparable level allows the City to fund the replacement of aging infrastructure for the next decade.
How Many Infrastructure Projects will this Rate Increase Create?
Over the course of the next decade, from 2023 through 2032, the revenues generated from these rate increases will fund 92 essential capital improvement projects. Here is the project breakdown.
- 33 Main Replacements
- 11 Well/Reservoir Upgrades
- 16 Main Replacements
- 17 Treatment Plant Upgrades
- 10 Main Replacements
- 5 Culvert Replacements
Why are these Projects Needed?
The City’s public sewer, water, and stormwater infrastructure are starting to show its age, especially in our downtown region. Many of our existing pipes for storm and sewer were installed prior to 1954 and have reached the end of their life. If they are not replaced, then the risk of a break or failure could have catastrophic consequences for our customers and residents. Emergency repairs are costly, often costing 30 to 40 percent more than a planned replacement. In the last two years, the city has made two emergency repairs to critical sewer lines on 9th Ave. SW and along River Road. These repairs are an example of the need to upgrade our sewer pipe system. See the below image of our current sewer pipe system and its age. The areas marked in red were built in 1954 and older. This represents over 35 miles of sewer pipe that have reached the end of their useful life.
Your utility bills go towards funding projects that keep our public sewer, water, and stormwater functioning. A healthy system means that toilets keep flushing and faucets deliver safe drinking water. Investing in the next ten years’ worth of infrastructure projects also means that future residents of Puyallup can enjoy these same things.
I live on the hill, where all the pipes are newer. Why should I pay for aging infrastructure in the valley and downtown?
Our utility system is an interconnected system of pipes. Each pipe in our system is like a highway, making sure the materials inside (sewer, water, or stormwater) make it to their destination. This means if there is a sewer main failure in one area of the City, that could have drastic effects on customers in other areas of the City. That is why the rates you pay go towards funding the whole system, not just the neighborhood you live in.
Can I Review the Utility Rate Study?
Of course, you can! For a copy of the Utility Rate Study, please go to the “Documents” tab on this webpage. There, you can review the Study and other pertinent documents related to the project.
Does this include garbage?
No. Garbage is handled by Murray’s Disposal, and they set the rates. However, the City is required by law to pay for landfill maintenance and repairs that are located in the City limits. The City charges a fee to customers and collects these landfill fees to help pay for maintenance, repairs, and monitoring of landfills that are located in Puyallup. This rate has been reduced by 30 percent for 2023 and is now $2.54 per can and $29.74 per container.
Please contact Murrey’s Disposal for garbage rate changes and questions about your bill.
Are the rates going up just for this year?
The rates will increase each year until 2032. In 2024, utility rates will increase again at an inflationary rate plus a catch-up rate. At this time, it is hard to determine exactly how much the total rate will be. Please check back here on this page for more information as we get closer to 2024.
When forecasting future years’ rates, the Utility Rate Study projects that rates will level off and be lower than the rates for 2023. For details about this, please review the Study in the Documents section of this page.
What if I am having trouble paying my utility bills? Does the City offer any discounts for seniors?
The City does offer utility payment extensions. Please contact our Utility Billing Division at 253-841-5550 or firstname.lastname@example.org and they can help you set up an extension. The City also has a program for seniors who are considered low-income and for low-income disabled persons. Once approved, they can qualify for a discount on their utility bills. The criteria are listed below.
- You must be a single-family homeowner, tenant, renter, or lessee who resides in the City of Puyallup.
- You must be financially responsible for the payment of City utility bills and reside at the service address.
- You must be considered a low-income senior or low-income disabled person, which is defined by state and federal law.
In your application, you must provide the following
- Proof of Age – Applicant shall provide a current driver’s license or a copy of a birth certificate. To qualify, the applicant must be at least 61 years old.
- Proof of Income – Property owners shall present a property tax statement that shows they are receiving the property tax discount from Pierce County. Renters shall present the most recent income tax statement, which shows total household income. To be considered low-income, you must have an annual income of $45,708 or less.
- Proof of Disability (if applicable) – Property owners will need to furnish a copy of a tax statement that shows they are receiving the discount from Pierce County. Tenants need to provide a copy of a “Physician’s Certification of Disability” form.
Once approved, the discount will be retroactively applied to your first billing of the year.
What can I do to reduce my utility bill?
Your bill is largely determined by your usage. With that said, there are some relatively easy things you can do to reduce your bill. We have some suggestions in the following section “Tips to Reducing your Utility Bill” that may be helpful.
Utilities, such as water, and your bill are largely determined by your usage and how much you consume as a customer. Here are some tips for reducing your utility bill, which can help offset the rate increases.
- Fix and Repair Leaks – The average American home wastes about 10,000 gallons of water per year, mostly due to small leaks. Fixing just the smallest leak can lead to a 10 percent reduction in your water usage. How do you find out if your home has leaks? First, check the common offenders such as your toilets, sinks, and faucets. Here are some things to watch for.
- Watch for faucet drips
- Look for faucet gaskets or pipe fittings that have water running on the outside of the pipe.
- Is your toilet running when it hasn’t been flushed? This is a sign of a faulty re-fill valve or a leak.
- Install a low-flow showerhead – New showerheads are a cheap, efficient way to save on water. Older shower heads (produced before 2000) can use up to 8 gallons per minute, whereas new shower heads use between 1 and 2 gallons per minute.
- Upgrade your appliances – Dishwashers and clothes washers are big consumers of water, especially older models. For example, an older dishwasher can use up to 14 gallons a cycle as opposed to a new, high-efficiency model, that uses 3 gallons a cycle.
- Check your outdoor gardening and watering habits – During the summer, it can be easy to overwater your lawn or garden. Most lawns only need about 1 inch of water per week. Consider installing a sprinkler system with a timer, or a drip irrigation system to save on water usage.
- Install low-flow faucets – Like low-flow showerheads, installing a low-flow faucet can reduce how much water you use in the sink. In turn, that reduces how much water enters our sewer system. Plus, you can cut down your energy bill by using less hot water.
- Take shorter showers – Long showers are a great luxury that we all enjoy. But the longer you are in the shower, the more water you send into our sewer. Set a timer while you’re in the shower and try to shave a minute or two off the routine.
- Install a high-efficiency toilet – Toilets, especially older models, can use up to 5 gallons of water per flush. Newer models, however, only use about a gallon per flush. Upgrading your toilet can lead to big savings on your sewer bill.
- Turn off the sink when washing dishes – This is a simple habit change that can save you a bundle on your next bill. Instead of running the water while hand washing dishes, fill up the sink with fresh water and clean the dishes with the faucet turned off. You’d be surprised at how much water can be reduced just by doing this. The less water you use in the sink, means less water entering our sewer system.