Public works director: City utility rate hikes likely in spring

Sean C. Morgan

Public Works Director Mike Adams expects to recommend higher utility rates next spring when the city sets its next budget.

That will include water and sewer services, neither of which were increased in the current fiscal year, 2013-14, which began on July 1; and it includes the storm water utility, which has been $1 per month for most residents since 2007. Adams hasn’t calculated what the rates will need to be, but he expects all three to increase.

He plans to make a presentation to the City Council about the storm water utility prior to preparing budget proposals, possibly before December.

“It’s a presentation describing where we’re at on the storm water utility, a refresher why we’ve got it in the first place,” Adams said. “One of the critical things we have to do is meet state and federal regulations and guidelines on storm water compliance.”

That comes down to total maximum daily load parameters, particularly regarding bacteria, mercury and temperatures in the South Santiam River, Adams said. The requirements are similar to those used in wastewater treatment.

Much of it can be done just by educating the public, he said, such as placement of the no-dumping warnings at storm drains, riparian ordinances and moving to more low-impact development concepts.

The current rate has funded a single maintenance worker, he said. A maintenance worker left Public Works a few months ago, but Adams hasn’t filled the position, allowing storm water funds to recharge.

The original recommendation was for $4 per “equivalent development unit,” which amounted to $4 per month for most residences. But the council approved the much lower $1 rate in an attempt to hold down overall rates, allowing Adams to establish the utility and hire a maintenance worker for storm water projects.

Water and wastewater employees were doing the work on storm drainage already, Adams said. It was being supported by the other funds, through the water and wastewater rates.

The work has mainly been reactive, dealing with issues as they arise, he said. There have been some spot repairs to deal with localized flooding and other issues.

Establishment of the utility provides the components to create a systems development charge for storm water expansion and collecting for depreciation and future capital projects.

Outside of storm water, the city has other expenses on the horizon.

On Oct. 8, council members will tour the Wastewater Treatment Plant and then discuss improvements the city will need to make there.

The councilors will receive a report on where the city is at with wastewater flows. The city has been reducing inflow and infiltration for about the past 13 years. Inflow and infiltration is ground water that leaks into deteriorating pipes or storm water that enters through cross connections to storm drainage systems.

During heavy rains, the excess storm water in the sewer system can force the Wastewater Treatment Plant to bypass untreated wastewater to the South Santiam River. The city is negotiating a new agreement with the Department of Environmental Quality to continue reducing I&I. The original agreement expired in 2010. Under the agreement, if the city is reducing I&I, the city would not be fined for bypassing untreated wastewater.

Over the past decade, repairs and replacements in the wastewater collection system, including sewer mains and private laterals, have substantially reduced I&I flows.

Adams believes that improvements and expansion of the Treatment Plant will be the most cost effective way to reduce bypasses.

With storm water, the city will encounter some of the same kinds of questions it did in its I&I projects in wastewater.

Perhaps a drainage system needs ditches straightened, Adams said, or culverts under driveways must be enlarged.

“How do we do that?” he asked. Perhaps the city pays for it, but those projects may technically be private property owner responsibilities. If the city does improve drainage on private property, he wondered whether that obligates the city.

The storm water master plan was created in 1980, he said. If he updates it, he wonders how he should pay for it.

Once it’s updated, it will include a capital improvements list to meet the goals, he said.

Those are questions he cannot answer on a rate providing $60,000 per year, Adams said.