Water rate hikes will take effect in Scappoose Nov. 21.

by: FILE PHOTO - The city of Scappoose is raising water rates in order to fund repair and maintenance to the citys water system. Currently, the citys dams are in need of sediment removal as well as some repair. Scappoose City Council voted 5-1 to approve a resolution Monday, Oct. 21, to raise residential water rates by $5 per meter, per month over the course of three years.

The rate hikes were implemented to fund the city's water budget and allocate money to update and repair the city's water infrastructure. The city held a public hearing on the matter before voting, but received no comment.

The three-year phased-in water rate hike will begin Nov. 21 and will put residential water rates at $20.70 per month in year one, $25.70 per month in year two and $30.70 per month in year three. Under the resolution, meters larger than the residential size will be subject to rate increases proportional to the residential rate hikes.

The $5 residential increase per meter falls under a “debt service fee” category for each bill. Residential users will pay a monthly charge which includes an $8 meter fee and a $12.70 debt service fee in year one.

The debt service fee will increase to $17.70 in year two and $22.70 in year three. The $8 meter fee will remain consistent through all three years.

In addition to the meter and debt service charges, users will pay a commodity rate for every 100 gallons used per month. Currently, all users in Scapposoe pay 38 cents per 100 gallons of water used, said Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge. Starting Nov. 21, those who use zero to 7,500 gallons of water per month will continue to pay 38 cents per 100 gallons, but those who use 7,501 to 10,000 gallons within a month will pay 42 cents per 100 gallons and those who use more than 10,000 gallons within a month will pay 43 cents per 100 gallons. The commodity rate will remain constant through all three years and is being implemented to encourage conservation, Burge said.

Although the council approved the resolution, it will be revisited at a later meeting to more clearly outline the debt service fee to show specifically where the money will be allocated. Burge said the debt service fee will also be used for water operations and maintenance.

“We want to make sure [the resolution] accurately reflects which part is being used for water operations and maintenance and which part is being used for debt service,” he said.

According to a council action and status report, the rate hikes would increase city water revenues by $141,000 the first year, $282,000 the second year and $425,000 the third year.

The council will also consider a hardship program ordinance to help low-income households with the rate hikes. Councilors asked Scappoose City Manager Jon Hanken to draft an ordinance that would outline an assistance program for low-income customers through a coordinated effort with Community Action Team, or CAT. CAT is a St. Helens-based nonprofit that facilitates multiple assistance programs for residents in Columbia County.

One recommendation before council is to waive rate fees and reconnection charges for customers working with CAT for assistance, as well as potentially reducing those customers rates by a percentage or a fixed dollar amount. The council said it will also consider a hardship program geared specifically toward seniors.

One reason for the hike in rates is the result of a failed effort to sell timberland in the Gourlay Creek watershed in June, which would have generated an estimated $440,000 for the city’s water fund. For fiscal year 2013, the city’s water funds have a projected shortfall totaling $689,144.

The city anticipates bidding the timber sale again in the fall, potentially generating $220,000 in revenue for the 2014 fiscal year and another $220,000 the following fiscal year. Those funds, however, would not go into lowering water rates, but would be allocated to water infrastructure repair and maintenance.

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