Utility fee increases were brought forward by city staff to compensate for increasing costs.

Utility rates will increase in Forest Grove next month, following a series of Forest Grove City Council votes on Monday, June 11.

Water, sewer and surface water management rates are all going up as of July 1, the start of the next fiscal year in Forest Grove. The council held public hearings on the rate increases Monday night before voting for the increases, which were recommended by city staff.

The 3 percent rate increases for water and sewer service in Forest Grove match the 3 percent hike in electricity rates that the City Council approved in January for Forest Grove Light & Power.

The council also approved higher garbage and recycling collection rates last month, at the request of Waste Management, which serves Forest Grove households and businesses.

Rates for surface water management, often referred to as stormwater management, will increase by 4.6 percent. Stormwater charges are a relatively small piece of Forest Grove utility bills.

The city also approved a roughly 3 percent increase to many of its planning fees, along with a couple of new service charges. Most of those fees will primarily affect developers in Forest Grove.

A memorandum from City Manager Jesse VanderZanden provided to members of the City Council suggested the planning fee increases "should increase fee revenue to the city, but the projected revenue increase is dependent on the volume of transactions that occur."

As for the utility fee increases, council members agreed that they are needed to keep the city's infrastructure in good shape.

"If we do not raise this, then our infrastructure will fall apart. … It's very hard, it's very trying, I don't want to have to do that, but that's why I said I would accept this," said Council President Tom Johnston. "I feel that way every time we raise some things. But if we don't keep things in a workable condition, we'll get too far behind, and it will cost us that much more."

Mayor Pete Truax agreed, saying, "We don't take this step lightly, but we take this necessary step to maintain the services that we have in the city of Forest Grove. … We do these things because the city needs to operate fairly for all its residents, and this is the best way that we've come up with. There may be a better way out there, but we haven't found it yet."

According to Paul Downey, the city's administrative services director, the increase in water rates should lead to about a $1.48 monthly increase in the average single-family household's water bill, with the sewer rate increase — combined with a 3 percent increase proposed by Clean Water Services, the regional water management utility — tacking on roughly $1.30 per month more. The city's surface water management rate increase would generate an average monthly increase of 46 cents per dwelling, with an expected Clean Water Services rate increase yet to be brought forward.

"I think $3.24 a month is an increase that we can live with," Truax said, pointing out that there are forms of assistance available for low-income households struggling to pay utility bills in Forest Grove.

Funding from surface water management fees will help pay for two major capital improvement projects in Forest Grove over the next fiscal year, Downey noted: the repair of a culvert at Hawthorne Street, and the repair of a slide at Forest Glen Park in northwest Forest Grove.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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