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Ballots to consider up to 40% hikes in six-year period will have two statements against, none in favor

Victoria MeinigOregon City voters will see the all-capitalized words "no arguments in favor of this measure were filed" when they consider whether to raise water rates over the next several years.

Voters' Pamphlets and ballots going to OC voters next month will contain two statements against the water-rate measure, from former Mayor John Williams and from OC Chamber of Commerce CEO Victoria Meinig. No one submitted a Voters' Pamphlet statement supporting the measure.

In addition to replacing water pipes that are more than a century old in many areas of the city, the measure would speed the construction of two more reservoirs or storage tanks. Oregon City's elected officials reluctantly referred the measure to voters, saying that recent ice storms and wildfires provided a wakeup call for residents to approve rate increases now or end up in much more expensive and dangerous situations.

Oregon City commissioners could increase baseline water rates by more than 41% after six years, if voters approve up to 6% compounding annual increases. In a statement also endorsed by the Downtown Oregon City Association, Meinig wrote that the "misleading" measure would put OC businesses "in jeopardy." Ballots are due back to the elections office by Nov. 2.

"A 'temporary' increase will lead to permanently higher costs," Meinig wrote. "Under the original charter, businesses experience a gradual 3% increase in water costs each year."

Commissioner Frank O'Donnell was among the commissioners who would have liked the city to be more upfront in ballot language to describe the magnitude of proposed potential rate increases. OC Senior Engineer Patty Nelson said city staff and commissioners are committed to minimizing the rate increases, although the ballot measure doesn't specify the rates, due to uncertainties in future construction costs and other factors.

Meinig said the pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge for business owners, leading many businesses to barely survive while some in Oregon City have already closed.

"Disrupted supply chains, higher staffing costs and inflation are serious concerns," she wrote.

She said water-rate increase as high as 6% annually would put businesses at additional risk for closure, particularly those businesses that rely on water as a major input.

"The city should be helping businesses recover, not making it more difficult," she wrote.

Voters will be considering a separate measure on the November ballot that would authorize the city to borrow funds to replace pipes. Voter authorization to borrow money would enable the city to apply for low-interest federal and state loans, according to the official explanation of the measure.

City officials acknowledged that they would need to work hard to help voters understand the ballot measures and encourage them to vote. Oregon City launched an informational website to assist voters in understanding the measures at oregoncitywater.org.


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