Utilities rates are set every two years. The process of updating rates involves many levels of review and public outreach.
2021-2022 budget process
Utility rates are approved by City Council as part of the City’s biennial budget process. Before the proposed budget reaches City Council, it is thoroughly reviewed by the Environmental Services Commission, a 7-member citizen advisory commission. After a public hearing to review public comments, the Commission unanimously recommended that Council approve the Utilities proposed 2021-2022 budget and rates.
At its December 14 meeting, the Bellevue City Council adopted the 2021-2022 budget. New rates are slated to go into effect on January 1.
What considerations go into budget planning?
Bellevue Utilities makes budget decisions very carefully, based on the following objectives:
- Maintaining stable and predictable rates to avoid large rate increases in the future
- Keeping our rates competitive with neighboring cities
- Meeting the long-term needs of our customers and community
- Ensuring we provide the level of service expected by customers
Our rates cover the cost to provide you with safe, reliable services, maintain utility infrastructure, protect natural resources, and invest in system improvements that make your services better and serve our growing community.
Bottom line: we want to ensure customers get the value and quality of service you expect from us.
How has COVID-19 impacted budget decisions?
During these challenging times, Bellevue Utilities has worked hard to keep costs as low as possible while maintaining service quality. When proposing the 2021-2022 budget and rates, we worked to minimize rate impacts for all cost areas we can control. We have proposed no rate increase for local utility operations, and have reduced planned capital investments. Budget impacts are primarily the result of cost increases from external agencies that we can’t change or control.
2021-2022 proposed budget and budget drivers
Bellevue Utilities has a $321.8 million budget to cover operating expenses over the next two years. Utility services are funded through rates. The graph below show the drivers of utility costs for the next two years, broken down by cost area.
What's included in these cost areas?
- Costs to external agencies (shown in red): These are payments for wholesale water supply and wastewater treatment, the taxes we pay as a business and costs for support services from other city departments. Cost increases in these areas are outside of our control.
Capital investments (shown in blue) These investments are necessary to take care of aging infrastructure and ensure consistent, reliable services. We have reduced planned investments for the next two years to minimize cost increases in this area.
- Local operations (shown in green). This covers all costs needed to run the utilities - maintain and operate the systems and meet regulatory requirements, personnel costs, supplies, professional services and more. We are proposing no cost increases for this area.
How will 2021-2022 rates impact the average utility bill?
This table shows the rate impact over the next two years broken down by cost driver for the typical single-family bill. Learn more about water, wastewater and stormwater service costs.
As the chart shows, rates will increase by 3.8% in 2021 and 3.9% in 2022. The majority of this increase is driven by costs paid to outside agencies. There are no rate increases to cover local utility operations.
How is Bellevue Utilities managing costs and keeping rates competitive?
We know rates impact our customers. We work hard to keep our costs low and our rates competitive with neighboring agencies, to ensure Bellevue remains a great place to live and work.
Here are some of the ways we are managing costs to help customers during the COVID crisis:
- Capital project spending management – we are prioritizing the most important or critical capital projects and have reduced planned capital investments over the 2021-2022 budget period.
- Local cost controls – we have implemented cost containment measures so that local operations do not drive a rate increase.
- Payment assistance programs – we are providing flexible payment plans and waiving late fees during the crisis. We are also helping customers access available bill pay help, including the Emergency Assistance Program that can cover up to four months of basic utility charges. Learn more about Utility Rate Relief programs.
Why does Bellevue Utilities have to raise rates in a difficult time?
We recognize this is a very challenging time for many households and businesses, and have taken many steps to reduce rate impacts. These steps include containing local costs where possible and using reserve funds to manage revenue loss from COVID. We can’t control cost increase from external agencies or absorb these increases. That could critically impact our ability to continue current service levels to our customers and meet regulatory requirements.
We also can’t halt all investments in infrastructure for the budget season. Capital projects are carefully planned and prioritized. Some projects have been delayed but stopping work could lead to system failure and impact new developments, potentially causing more economic issues.
What help is available for customers struggling to pay utility bills?
We want to help customers feeling the financial impacts of COVID in every way possible. We can work with you to set up flexible payment plans or access available emergency financial assistance. During this time, you won’t face additional fees or charges for past-due payments.
Please call 425-452-6973 or email firstname.lastname@example.org so our customer service team can talk with you about your options or set up a payment plan that meets your needs.
This program can cover up to four months of basic water, sewer and drainage service charges. To qualify, you must meet the program’s low-income guidelines for the past 30 days and not receive other Utilities financial assistance.
To learn more about the Emergency Assistance Program or other rate relief help, please contact 425-452-5285 or email UtilityRelief@bellevuewa.gov.