City raises water, sewer rates by 3 and 4 percent
After months of discussion, the Sandy City Council approved an increase in the city's water and sewer rates at its Nov. 6 meeting.
Public Works Director Mike Walker recommended to the council an increase of 3 percent for water consumers and an increase of 4 percent for sewer customers.
This increase, Walker explained, was greatly needed to preempt additional costs to the city as one of its main water suppliers, Portland Water Bureau, looks to build a new filtration plant. The cost of this plant to the city could translate into a rate increase to Sandy as a wholesale consumer of water from Portland's Bull Run watershed.
The need for the filtration plant was determined earlier this year after multiple hits of cryptosporidium were detected in the Bull Run supply.
Walker also said the rate increases is necessary if the city plans to pay down the debt on its current water treatment plant loan before taken on another to build a new facility.
The circa-1998 wastewater facility is said to be near the end of its useful life. The capacity of the plant was designed to serve a population of about 11,000, and the the city now has about 10,600 people.
With wetter winters and a growing population increasing demand on the plant, Walker said the increase in rates and building of a new facility were inevitable, especially to keep the city's debt down.
"We don't want to get behind the curve on this," Walker explained. "The council's expressed a desire to pass several smaller, more regular, rate increases. We believe these rate adjustments are necessary to the system given the state of repair and to anticipate future expenses. We have some debt we're retiring soon that we'd like to be able to incur the expense once we've paid off the existing (loan)."
During the public comment period, Sandy resident Rob Shea let the council know he felt otherwise.
"With taxes, water going up, and trying to run a household, I'm concerned for the senior citizens and people on limited incomes," Shea prefaced. "It's becoming very expensive to live here, paying those bills. … My concern is the frequency in increases."
He went on to explain that he saw some of the same "primary drivers," i.e. the need for a new roof on the Vista Loop station, determining an increase over the years, and noted that the city has increased the rates several times within the last few years.
Shea also expressed a concern that the city was not budgeting properly if this need for a rate increase kept occurring.
"These increases, it does become, when you budget, that does stand out," he told the council. "I'd just like you to consider — things are going up here — Sandy growth was, like, 5.8 percent from new housing. You mentioned there are a lot of building permits. Maybe there's other ways to get this funding for the watershed and for the costs that could be put on to new businesses, new builds, people coming into Sandy, more taxes, more revenue, that could be looked at instead of automatically thinking let's go raise the utility bills."
In response to Shea's comment, Mayor Bill King explained that "Council has been resistant to increase rates."
In an effort to "make less of an impact on all of our residents," Kind said, the city has tried to keep increases to a minimum and apply them incrementally and in smaller amounts over time. Rather than wait five years and increase rates 15 percent in one go, the city has tried to increase rates by about 3 to 5 percent annually.
"We certainly share your frustration with having to raise rates and wish we didn't have to," King explained. "In this case we can't guess, we can't anticipate. Somebody else is dictating to us what those costs are going to be to us. DEQ is going to be in control of what size of plant and what exactly we're going to be building. That's a debt service that is in the future, so what this increase is going to cover is our costs that have risen."
King also invited Shea to join the city's Budget Committee for a firsthand look at the allocation process for city funds.
"There is a lot of uncertainty," Walker said. "It's very difficult to do two-year budgeting. Put a number in there 30 months in advance. You're kind of going on the best information you have at the time."
n In other news, Tonya Moffitt, CPA, of Merina & Company, LLP, the city's auditing firm, presented on Sandy's 2016-17 audited financial reports.
"I'm happy to report we issued an unmodified opinion on the city's financial statements," Moffitt said. "That means the city is doing a very good job of making they're supplying easy-to-read, understandable, the numbers tie out and everything matches financial statements."
Moffitt pointed out some over-expenditures found in the audit, but said in order to address those with the state, all the council needs to do is send a letter stating that it acknowledges its shortcomings and will not have the same overexpenditure next time.
On Monday evening, the council approved the second readings of both the Sturm and Knight annexation ordinances by title only, allowing the applicants to annex their properties into the city of Sandy. The details of how the properties will be developed will be discussed at a later date in the planning phase of the application process.
The second reading was delayed after the city received complaints about the thoroughness of the staff reports regarding the ordinances from the Housing Council of Oregon.
To address these concerns, Planning Director Kelly O'Neill, Jr., with the help of city attorney David Doughman, added language to more specifically state how the properties in question qualify for annexation based on the city's estimated housing needs and recent urban growth boundary expansion.
"We have not heard anything more from the Fair Housing Council, and I don't anticipate there being anything," O'Neill explained. "I'm confident that (these ordinances) are pretty ironclad."
Speaking of expansion, the council also heard an update on Monday concerning the Pleasant Street master plan and downtown walkability study.
Emma Porricolo of Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) explained to the council the next steps of completing a plan to "help people visualize" what the Pleasant Street neighborhood could be if more businesses we encouraged to move there, and it was made more aligned with the downtown core of the city.
Most of Pleasant Street is actually zoned as commercial property, though many have made it a residential neighborhood over the years. The city sees that zoning as potential for the town to grow and shift some of the traffic from Highway 26 to Pleasant Street.
So far, Porricolo said she has begun reaching out to residents and downtown businesses for input into what they'd like to see Pleasant Street become. She plans to host creative outreach events in the future to invite the community into the conversation.
As for the downtown walkability study, she is in a similar phase. Right now, Porricolo is looking mainly at the infrastructure and safety of downtown Sandy. She later plans to host pop-up mapping events and a walking audit with city staff and community members to determine where the most frequented routes through downtown are.
Keeping with the theme of expansion and change, City Manager Kim Yamashita reported that the rebranding initiative is making progress. The city has determined a tagline and logo and soon will decide on a color scheme for its new brand.