City Council moves toward utility rate hike

With municipal utility funding tapped out, City Council started reaching for the rate faucet on Monday.

By a 5-1 vote, the council instructed city staff to prepare a resolution to raise residential and commercial sewer and water rates by about 45 percent starting Feb. 1, 2002.

Council will consider the resolution in its next meeting, Jan. 14.

For the typical home, the monthly sewer rate would go up from $26 to $36, while the water rate would rise from $14.35 to $22.17.

"The sewer funds are all broke," City Manager Lynn Guenther told the council. "We spent all our money on debt service and (sewage plant) construction and that's why we're in the hole."

The city must pay for last year's expansion of the sewage treatment plant, and build up reserves to fund a new water line, at an estimated $19 million.

The council action was based on a report presented Monday by Raymond Bartlett, a Portland financial analyst under contract with the city.

"The sewer utility is running a deficit that increases monthly," Bartlett reported. "To avoid having to borrow money from a non-sewer fund (such as the General Fund) sewer rates will have to be increased as soon as possible," Bartlett reported.

"While the water utility for the moment is recovering enough revenue from rates to cover its costs, in the near future the city will begin construction of a new water main from its wells on Mount Hood to the City that may cost as much as $19 million." The city will have to increase water rates to cover the interest on loans needed for water main construction, Bartlett said.

Bartlett said the city could get by if it raised the sewer rate to $32 effective Feb. 1 and then again to $36 by July 1. He noted that at the proposed rates of $36 for sewer and $22 for water, Hood River would be below the state average of $40 for sewer and $25 for water among similar-sized rural Oregon cities.

Council Member Andrea Klaas voted against Monday's motion, after pointing to Hood River County's per capita income being among the state's lowest, and unemployment rates among the highest.

"It's so expensive to live in the city," Klaas said. "We just raised our garbage rates, and it costs a lot to live here. Part of affordable housing is being able to pay these utility costs."

But Guenther urged the council to move toward the full $36 rate rather than going in increments.

"We should take our lumps one time, and be done with it," Guenther said in urging the council to support the idea of moving toward one rate increase rather than the incremental approach.

"Set the schedule and stick with it, so everyone knows it's going to happen -- an annual increase in water and sewer," Guenther said.

The council also took a step toward creating a surcharge for the 140 city water users who live outside of the city limits and pay no city taxes. Passing unanimously Monday was Council Member Chuck Haynie's separate motion to order staff to prepare a resolution that would make non-city water uses pay a 50 percent "differential" charge above the basic rate.

Haynie had argued in favor of passing the $32 sewer rate in February rather than the full $36.

"If you don't need the taxes, you shouldn't pass them," Haynie said.

"Less is needed now," he said, given the current economic recession. "I see this is as a $4 fudge factor." But Guenther pointed out that any unspent utility revenue would be carried over to the next budget year.

Bartlett told the council, "At $36 you will be close to breaking even at the end of the the fiscal year but you will start building cash reserves at the end of the year."

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Annual rate hikes expected

The rate hike proposed for January could be a first-annual.

Based on the city's projected revenue needs, according to analyst Raymond Bartlett, the city would need to ask for annual utility hikes. This is a sample of how they would go:

Residential and commercial water:

$22.17 in 2002

$25.50 in 2003

$28.04 in 2004.

(three-quarter-inch meter service)

Residential sewer:

$36 in 2002

$40 in 2003

$42 in 2004

Commercial sewer:

$61.20 in 2002

$68.00 in 2003

$71.40 in 2004

(one-inch meter service)

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge



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