City proposes lowering school district water rates

Sean C. Morgan

The city’s Administration, Finance and Property Committee has directed City Manager Ray Towry to move forward with a proposal to return the Sweet Home School District’s water rates to last year’s levels for a period of six months.

During that six months, Towry said, the district will work on a plan outlining what it will do with the money it saves during that period.

Objecting to a 45-percent increase in water rates, school district officials had earlier approached the committee, requesting that the city waive water fees for irrigating district fields, which are used by numerous community groups and activities. They explained that district facilities serve as additional park spaces and green spaces within the city, and the district would like to work with the city to continue improving its grounds.

Last year, the bulk rate for water used by the district was $5.21 per 100 cubic feet. The bulk water rate increased to $7.54 per 100 cubic feet, which equals approximately 748 gallons. The residential rate increased last year to $7.86 per 100 cubic feet, up from $6.50 per 100 cubic feet.

The district pays the bulk water rate for irrigation.

The committee rejected the request for a waiver but indicated it was open to further discussion. Towry returned to the committee March 26 with the new proposal.

Members of the committee are councilors Diane Gerson, James Goble and Dave Trask.

Towry said the time period for the reduction in rates isn’t set, and the district would work with the Park and Tree Committee on a plan for how it would use the savings, estimated at about $17,000, a reduction from $75,000 to $58,000, according to Finance Director Brandon Neish. When developed, it would go to the City Council for approval.

“I’m fine with that, as long as they do not include anything they’re planning to do with the bond money,” Gerson said.

Towry told the committee he understands it may accelerate plans for field improvements at Foster and Sweet Home Junior High. Towry envisions a plan showing how the district would accelerate its plans, additional fields and park-like structures, and an equitable exchange of value – “something so you can see what you’re getting.”

Trask said he didn’t mind moving the question to the full council, although he is not sure he will vote to approve the idea.

“I’m not committed to saying no either,” Trask said. In any case, he wanted to see a plan and a time frame.

Committee members agreed to move the proposal to the council for consideration. The full council will decide whether to continue moving forward with the proposal.

School District Supt. Tom Yahraes said he is looking forward to hearing more details.

In other business, Towry told the committee that staff began discussing a ban on drilling new wells inside the city prior to the School Board’s decision earlier in March to look into drilling wells as an alternative to irrigating its fields.

He said he notified the district about it already, and “I anticipate reaching an agreement with them that everybody’s going to be happy with.”

Towry said that staff were divided on the issue. He was seeking direction on whether to gather further information for the committee.

Towry told the committee that 15 wells had been drilled in the area in the past 10 years. That information is based on Sweet Home’s township and includes areas around town.

City residents are mandated to hook up to city water in a couple of areas based on groundwater contamination, Towry said, One property owner has asked to be removed from the mandate.

“We’ve had some lively discussions internally,” Towry said.

The reason communities come together is because there is strength in numbers, Towry said. The more people who come together the better.

“The whole reason you incorporate into a community is the system is only as strong as the number of people you have in it,” Towry said.

Goble said he would never support taking away a property owner’s ability to drill an irrigation well.

He said he is looking a 1 1/2-acre property, and if wells were banned, he would be told no.

“That means the city would be digging in my pocket,” Goble said.

Goble said he didn’t care for the idea, but he would like additional information.

Gerson and Trask both said they would like to see more information as well.