SH water rates to rise, most by $12 per month

Scott Swanson

Most city water users will pay nearly $13 more per month after City Council members last week approved a rate adjustment that will increase bills for most water and sewer users beginning with September bills.

The new base charge, which includes the first 400 cubic feet for residential water and sewer users, is $40.87 for sewer and $26.58 for water, a combined total of $67.45. This represents an increase of $12.85 per month, a 23.5-percent increase in bills each month for those using 400 cubic feet of water and sewer services.

The first 400 cubic feet of use each month is included with the base charge.

The commodity charge for water is $6.50 per 100 cubic feet of water above 400 cubic feet. The commodity charge for sewer service is $6.12 per 100 cubic feet of use above 400 cubic feet.

Those who pay only for sewer service will see an increase from $50.60 to $53.11.

For those using more than 400 cubic feet, the total increase in monthly bills will be smaller because the combined base charge is higher while the combined commodity charge is lower. For those using 1,000 cubic feet of water, monthly bills will increase by $4.99 per month. For those using 2,000 cubic feet of water, bills will decrease by about $8 per month.

“I dislike the $12.85,” said Councilor Dave Trask. “I wish it was lower than that.”

Last year, the council used up its funding reserves to run the utilities, said Mayor Jim Gourley. “I am not excited about raising it $12, but that’s up to the City Council.”

This is what it takes to pay for the services, Gourley said. It could be lower, but the city would be playing catch-up next year.

“We are now playing catch-up,” Mahler said.

Voting for the rate increases were James Goble, Greg Mahler and Diane Gerson. Voting against the rate increases were Dave Trask and Jim Gourley.

Councilors Ryan Underwood and Jeff Goodwin were absent.

The council met on Aug. 22 in a work session to settle several questions about the composition of the rate structure. In September, following several discussions, the council held off rate increases for the 2015-16 fiscal year, which ended on June 30.

In February, the council began discussing water and sewer rates again but postponed discussions until after completion of the spring budget process. On July 26, during a regular meeting, no majority of the council formed to approve a new rate structure. Following discussion, the council chose to hold a work session on Aug. 22.

Reaching some consensus in that meeting to fully fund depreciation requirements – revenue set aside to repair and replace aging infrastructure in the future, and to charge half of what is called the “debt ratio” – a reserve amount necessary to borrow money for future capital projects in the water and sewer systems, the council approved new rates during its regular meeting on Aug. 23.

Last week’s decision maintains the 400-cubic-foot subsidy, which had been in contention. Goodwin had proposed, with support from Trask, decreasing it to 300 cubic feet or getting rid of it entirely.

Under the subsidy arrangement, which has been in place for nearly two decades, residents receive the first 400 cubic feet of water and sewer use for the base charge. The commodity charge is imposed for each 100 cubic feet more than 400 cubic feet that is used each month.

In other business, the council:

– Revisited its profile for the city manager position and then voted to approve it following an opportunity for public comment.

– Approved goals for 2016-17, including a proposed goal to build three new crosswalks between Clark Mill Road and Wiley Creek Drive. Goodwin had proposed the goal, and councilors agreed that the city should research the cost of building them.

With the approval, staff will develop action plans for work to be accomplished in support of the goals, and they will be reviewed quarterly.

– Approved a move of an employee from billing to the Municipal Court. The employee had already been filling in at the court, while the workload in utility billing has decreased.

– Approved the hiring of a janitor for the Sweet Home Police Department.

– Approved a new Healthy Eating and Active Living Program. With it, the city becomes eligible for community grants.