The city of Hillsboro will decide this summer whether or not to move forward with a planned 11 percent increase in residential water bills.
If the plan moves forward, the city plans to impose an increase starting in October. The city provides water to most Hillsboro residents and businesses west of Cornelius Pass Road. The rate increase will affect the water portion of customers' utility bills.
According to the city, the average residential customer in Hillsboro would pay about $3.25 more per month for water use.
The city's Utilities Commission is asking for public input, including a public meeting about the plan on July 10. City staff members are used to negative feedback on rate increases.
"In past years, there have always been people who show up at rate hearings expressing concern about impacts of any increase in water rates on affordability, and water department staff and members of the utilities commission take a very serious approach and remember people have to pay bills," Hillsboro Water Department Director Kevin Hanway said.
The increase is aimed at paying for upgrades and expansions to the current water system as the city forecasts for the next 50 to 75 years of water needs, Hanway said. In addition, residents and businesses are using less water than expected by the city at the last round of projections, meaning the city needs to raise water rates to cover operating expenses.
The city specifically cited slower-than-expected industrial growth, especially among water-thirsty businesses such as manufacturing plants. Industrial water customers pay at a higher rate than most residential customers, meaning the city water system is harder-hit by inaccurate industrial projections than by projections for commercial, residential or public use.
"We make projections for a range of potential changes and demands," Hanway said. "Previous revenue projections were based on a projection for industrial demand in the middle of the range. Based on our experience over the last year, the actual demand is coming close to the low end of the range."
The rate increase of 11 percent would apply across all customer classes.
The rate increase will also help fund the Willamette Supply Pipeline project, a years-long project with Tualatin Valley Water District aimed at pumping water from the Willamette River near Wilsonville. The city selected the mid-Willamette project over ideas to expand Henry Hagg Lake and purchasing water from Portland, among other options.
The Willamette Supply Pipeline is under construction now, with completion slated for 2026.
In spite of the increase, Hanway said that Hillsboro's water rates would remain the third-lowest in the region ahead of Rockwood's People's Utility District and the city of Tualatin. Forest Grove, Beaverton and Wilsonville are the next expensive, with Portland at the top of the list.
"Comparing this to where we stand with past rates and where it puts us in the region, water is still a good value to Hillsboro customers," Hanway said.
The public is invited to testify during the July 10 meeting, which is set for 6:30 p.m. in Room 113 B/C at the Hillsboro Civic Center, 150 E. Main St.
Hillsboro's Utilities Commission is a three-member panel which oversees the city's water system and sets rates on water consumption.
The commission is expected to vote on the plan at its regular meeting Aug. 8.
Mailed public feedback can be sent to City of Hillsboro Water Department, RE: Water Rate Feedback. 150 E. Main St., Third Floor, Hillsboro, OR 97123.
Public feedback will be accepted until 5 p.m. on July 10.
Editor's Note: This story appeared in the June 23 issue of the Hillsboro Tribune.