Monroe council pondering taking over water system

Marbello customers make request at Tuesday meeting over service quality

Kelly Sullivan

Monroe city councilmembers are considering what it would mean to manage a water system outside city limits.

A group of homeowners in the Marbello Water System service area — less than a half-mile outside city limits and west of Chain Lake Road — say they are tired of the chronic maintenance problems associated with the facility. Some also lack confidence the owner’s proposed 175 percent monthly rate increases would solve issues with poor management.

Three customers made their case during last Tuesday’s council meeting, presenting a petition signed by 58 of the system’s 97 customers to the council.

Marbello is owned by Seattle-based Iliad Water Service Inc., but supplied by city water.

“If there has been one annoyance in the neighborhood for the last 13 years, its the only one — the Marbello Water System and the owner, Iliad water company,” said Marbello customer Cathy Irving.

While gathering signatures for the acquisition petition, she said she heard some “truly appalling” stories from her neighbors. Customers have experienced water main breaks that go days without repair, boil water notices that show up days after repairs were made and “frosty interactions with the office staff, and that’s if you are lucky enough to actually get them on the phone,” she said.

Monroe Public Works operations and maintenance manager Jakeh Roberts said the system’s infrastructure is aging, and major improvements or a complete replacement of the system may be necessary. That could cost anywhere from $1.9 million to $2.2 million to bring it up to city code. The acquisition would likely hike the estimates even higher, but he doesn’t know by how much, he said.

How the council chooses to structure the purchase will also make a difference in the final price, said Monroe Public Works director Brad Fielberg. If they simply take over the old system and make repairs, it may cost less than an overhaul, he said.

Councilmember Ed Davis asked how long it would take to recoup the costs.

“Well, if you put it that way, a long time,” Roberts said. “But, more than likely, I would think we would want to pursue some sort of improvement district to facilitate those types of improvements — a special assessment, basically.”

In Washington, cities can use local improvement districts through the formation of special assessment districts as a way to finance capital improvements, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center. In this case, customers would be assessed and pay an annual fee that would satisfy payment over a number of years, Roberts said.

Irving said even if the fee was as much as Iliad’s proposed rate increases, most customers would be happy to pay.

Councilmember Jim Kamp said he wanted to clarify whether acquiring the system would result in any extraordinary burden on residents or the city.

“The acquisition of customers would increase the time requirements of staffing, especially so when you take on a system that’s subpar,” Roberts said. “There is some give through the city in order to facilitate that; it might be increasing staff, it might be something else.”

Mayor Geoffrey Thomas directed city staff to continue to research the topic, which Irving said is good news.



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