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Council looking to replenish stormwater fund


City considering a 20-year plan featuring revenue bond and steady rate hikes

Earlier this year, the Wilsonville City Council received a warning from city staff about dwindling reserve funds in the city’s stormwater fund.

Responsible for maintenance, operational and other costs associated with the city’s stormwater system, the fund has been drained of cash in recent years by unexpected contingencies, including a pair of multi-million dollar repair jobs to stormwater outfalls along the Willamette River.

As a result, the city’s new plan to pump millions of dollars into the Charbonneau district, much of it into that community’s ailing stormwater system, is now set to place unprecedented strain on the fund and the city’s ability to pay for long-term stormwater costs.

“The stormwater fund has been challenged the last few years,” Community Development Director Nancy Kraushaar told the City Council Aug. 4. “We’ve been monitoring its financial stability, and at the last budget hearing we reported we’d need to do a comprehensive rate study. In the meantime we’ve just completed our Charbonneau work, which has a very significant stormwater element to it.”

That rate study is now underway. And given the city's needs — up to $32 million in capital stormwater projects over the next 20 years — it now appears likely that stormwater rates are set to undergo a steady rise in coming years to accommodate that work.

The average Wilsonville residential stormwater customer pays about $5.25 per month. It’s one of the lowest rates in the metro area. By comparison, Portland charges customers $24.88 per month, while Sherwood’s residential charge is $13.27 per month, the two highest rates in the region.

To change this dynamic, the council is now considering three plans to boost the stormwater fund over the next 20 years. All three would feature a three-year revenue bond to help boost the fund initially. After that would come through a steady regimen of rate hikes, which, in turn, would allow for a steady upgrade of stormwater infrastructure in Charbonneau and elsewhere.

The main differences are that in one plan capital costs in years 4 through 20 would be funded with cash on a pay-as-you-go basis. This would mean steep fluctations in local rates from year to year as various projects are dealt with.

A second option would feature $1.6 million in budgeted stormwater capital spending annually to complete the $32 million capital improvement plan in 20 years; the final approach would reduce the annual budgeted amount for capital improvements to $500,000; this plan would not complete the capital improvement project within 20 years.

Some councilors expressed concern about potentially spending so much money in a small area of the city. But Mayor Tim Knapp and others said it would be irresponsible to not take sufficient action in the face of a pressing need.

“I would tend to say if we had a large need, then implementing only a minimal rate increase for the next several years seems to me not to be recognizing the magnitude of the ultimate need,” Knapp said. “Once we acknowledge there is a significant need, the option I’d like to see is to implement it soon so we have smaller steps to take.”