Council reaches consensus on water rates

Sean C. Morgan

Editor’s note: In this week’s edition (May 16, 2018) of The New Era, a story about city water rates incorrectly reported that the City Council reached a consensus on new water rates. The story should have reported that the City Council reached a consensus on reducing the amount of water included with the base charge from 400 cubic feet to 300 cubic feet. Water rates reported in the story were not proposed. Rather, rate increases discussed during the council meeting were examples based on current methodology and increasing production costs under the current rate structure, with 400 cubic feet and 300 cubic feet of water included with the base charge. The following story is a corrected version.

The Sweet Home City Council reached a consensus last week to reduce the amount of water included with the base charge customers pay, the same decision it made earlier this year when it adjusted sewer rates.

Currently, water users receive the first 400 cubic feet of water at the base price, $26.58. Based on the council’s consensus, city staff will develop options that reduce this amount to 300 cubic feet. After the City Council formally adopts a new rate structure, water users will begin paying the commodity charge, currently, $6.50 per 100 cubic feet, on each hundred cubic feet above 300.

For example, under the current rates, a resident who uses 600 cubic feet would pay the base charge, $26.58, plus $19.50 for 300 cubic feet instead of 200 cubic feet, a total of $46.08 for water. This total does not include storm drainage or wastewater.

Staff will return to the council with options, which are likely to include an increase in water bills, based on the reduction in the amount of water included in the base rate.

City Manager Ray Towry said the city won’t propose an increase in sewer rates for 2018-19.

“The increase from earlier this year should be fine, should get us through,” Towry said. The current water rate structure shows the water utility running slightly in the red, which means a rate increase is necessary.

The city has several water projects coming up, Towry said. One of the reservoirs has a sizable leak that needs repair, and in several places, the city needs to replace older water lines.

The projects “will decrease our water loss substantially,” he said. City staff is estimating a loss of 35 to 45 percent of the water produced at the Water Treatment Plant.

Towry hopes that the projects will “take care of some of our costs,” he said, decreasing expenses and allowing the rate to remain flat until inflation catches up.

“Nobody likes raising rates,” Towry said. “Staff doesn’t like it, and council definitely doesn’t like to decide on it.”

But this council recognizes that costs rise and the city cannot operate in the red, Towry said.

While the City Council did not actually approve any rate changes, city staff gave councilors an example of a potential rate increase based on the cost of producing water with the 400-cubic-foot subsidy and the 300-cubic-foot subsidy.

Under the option that includes 300 cubic feet and the current rate structure, bills would increase by $8.25 per month for the average user, which is 600 cubic feet on an annual basis. The combined utility would increase from $110.79 to $119.04. (The average monthly use in February and March was 300 cubic feet of water usage.)

The base rate for water would increase by a dime, from $26.58 to $26.68. The charge per 100 cubic feet would increase from $6.50 to $7.05.

Under the option that includes 400 cubic feet, the total increase would be roughly half of that for a resident who uses 600 cubic feet of water per month.

Present at the council meeting were Bob Briana, Susan Coleman, Lisa Gourley, Mayor Greg Mahler, Dave Trask, James Goble and Diane Gerson.