Part of city's strategic plan

by: HOLLY M. GILL - Brandie McNameeFee increases were on the minds of Madras residents last week, when they learned of changes approved in the city's 2014-15 budget.

After the city received numerous calls from concerned residents, Brandie McNamee, city finance director, clarified which fees are rising and when, as well as how the fees compare to those of other Central Oregon cities.

Water and sewer fees for city residents will be increasing about 4.5 percent and 8 percent, respectively, as part of the city's strategic plan, adopted on April 22.

"Within the plan, there is a goal — 2.8 — to update water and waste water ordinances and fiscal policies for financial sustainability and responsible use of city resources," she said.

Beginning July 1, city residents will pay $1.30 per cubic foot of water over the base rate of $25.55 (for the first 500 cubic feet). Currently, residents pay $1.25 per cubic foot over the base rate of $24.45.

The city purchases water from Deschutes Valley Water District, which raised its rates in January, McNamee added.

"If we were not doing what we're doing now, we'd be in the predicament Bend is in, with having to increase rates even further for infrastructure," she said.

Bend just announced that it is raising water rates by 5 percent, and sewer rates by 9 percent to pay for major infrastructure projects.

An April comparison of Central Oregon water utilities found that for 700 cubic feet (winter), Prineville residents would pay $28.07, and for 6,000 cubic feet, $117.64 (summer); Redmond residents would pay $21.54-$33.52 (winter) and $80.37-92.35 (summer); Bend residents would pay $26.09-$37.83 (winter) and $110.89-$122.63 (summer) before their 5 percent increase; and Madras would pay $26.95 (winter) and $93.20 (summer).

The new comparison rates for Madras will be $28.15 (winter) and $97.05 (summer).

Madras' sewer rate will be $53 per equivalent dwelling unit (single-family home), up from the current $49.05.

Sewer was not included in the survey, but Bend will be increasing from $44.37 to $48.36 per month for a single-family dwelling.

Beginning Sept. 1, Madras will also charge a late fee for residents who fail to pay their bills. The $5 fee will be added on the following month's bill, but residents can avoid the fee if they pay their bill in full by the 15th of the following month.

For example, if a resident receives a bill July 1, the resident has until July 10 to pay. If the resident forgets to pay, another bill will arrive on Aug. 1, which includes both months' charges, plus a $5 fee if the total bill is not paid by Aug. 15.

If the resident still hasn't paid by around the 25th of the month after the bill was due, city staff will go out and place a doorhanger on the resident's door, letting the resident know that the water will be shut off. The charge for the doorhanger is an additional $25, effective Sept. 1, and if the water is shut off, a reconnect fee of $40 will be added.

McNamee explained that essentially, residents have at least 60 days from when they used the water to when the water bill must be paid before any fees are tacked on.

The city is charging the $5 fee, "because that's how much it costs to prepare a letter to notify the 60-day past due delinquent account holders," she said. "We're trying to substantiate and offset administrative costs for those account holders that are not paying timely."

New for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which begins July 1, will be a $100 theft of services charge "if someone is found turning their water on or off," said McNamee. "City personnel are the only ones authorized to turn water on or off."

Tampering with a meter is a criminal offense, and the city will prosecute. For other questions, the city can be reached at 541-475-2344.

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