The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Water rate complaint a valid one that deserves discussion

 

February 20, 2019



City Manager Ray Towry hit the nail on the head during Friday’s Administration, Finance and Property Committee meeting when he said the School District is negotiating.

Counselor Dave Trask was exactly right too about the responsibility for paying the bill.

District officials asked the committee last week to waive water commodity charges for fields that are often used by the community for many community activities that do not directly serve the district’s mission to educate children (page 1).

Those grounds are a great feature to life in the Sweet Home community, as they are in most cities. They’re great places for kids to play, especially when a city park isn’t nearby, as is the case on the east end of Sweet Home; and throughout the community we use those grounds a lot for a lot of different reasons.

Those are points district Business Manager Kevin Strong and Supt. Tom Yahraes made when they approached the committee.

Their request is understandable, especially considering the way the rates have changed. In the past year, the large difference between commercial, industrial and bulk water rates as compared to residential rates, has changed drastically, with the latter increasing faster.

Those other rates have increased to levels similar to the residential rates. In the mists of our history, the residential rate increased substantially over the others when the council decided to subsidize 400 cubic feet of water each month to help out low-income water and sewer customers.

Those who use more water help pay for the first 400 cubic feet for those who use less. That has become confused in the last couple of years. One woman approached the council complaining that she was paying for 400 cubic feet when she used only 100 cubic feet each month. Trask has made the same complaint during council meetings. The truth of the matter is they’re just subsidized up to 400 cubic feet of use and those of us who use more than 400 cubic feet are paying for it.

With the rate changes, however, the differential has been erased, and commercial, industrial and bulk users are paying a lot more than they have in the past. That includes the School District, and obviously it prompted the district to ask the city to waive fees for watering the fields used by the community.

It is true the district needs to keep many of those fields green for its own purposes, but it’s also true that members of the community use those fields and facilities frequently – as if they were city parks.

The district is asking a fair question. And it’s asking in the right way, trying to offer to the ratepayers of Sweet Home a benefit – whether it is claiming to already provide the benefit or it is prepared to offer something more.

Trask was concerned that the people of Sweet Home, the ratepayers, will have to shoulder the burden while district residents outside the city limits essentially end up with a free ride. It’s a fair concern, especially since many of them also use those grounds and our city parks.

They’re members of the community, but they also bear a responsibility to pay for what they use, just like city residents. They’re already getting a sweet deal on law enforcement. City residents pay the same tax rate for county law enforcement services as those outside of town while also paying for their own police force, which often responds outside the city limits on Oregon State Police and Linn County Sheriff’s Office calls when troopers and deputies are too far away to respond quickly.

It seems fair to ask for something in exchange for city residents.

That’s where Towry made an excellent point. It’s a negotiation, and the committee and district can think outside the box. They can make some kind of exchange that specifically benefits city dwellers, the ratepayers who will have to pay extra to subsidize district irrigation.

It’s not an all-or-nothing situation either. The city could charge some portion less or as Towry explained, the city could reimburse the district from another fund for some benefit. These officials are creative, and it’s worth continuing the discussion.

It really could, as Strong explained, be a win-win; but as Trask and the other councilors indicated, city ratepayers should not have to carry the burden of the city’s high water rates on behalf of rural property owners who benefit.

 
 

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