Staff expected to propose $15 increase in monthly residential water rates

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - The dam on the South Fork Scappoose is in need of maintenance. The water level behind the dam is currently one foot deep, but when sediment is removed, the depth will increase to about four feet, city officials say.The Scappoose Public Works Advisory Committee met Tuesday, June 25, to discuss potential water and sewer rate hikes. After much discussion, the committee passed a motion to draft a resolution that would increase residential water and sewer rates.

City staff will present a resolution to the committee in July recommending an increase of residential water rates by $15 per meter, per month.

Residential users make up 93 percent of the city’s water consumption base.

The resolution will also include a monthly sewer rate increase of $3.40. If approved, the resolution will be forwarded to the City Council.

Scappoose City Manager Jon Hanken said he envisions the rate increases going into effect in September.

“The worst thing to do is raise rates in the summer,” he said. “You raise them in the fall when high demand is off.”

The city is considering rate increases due to a $440,000 hole in the 2013-2014 fiscal year budget. In May, city officials sent out a request for a bid proposal to sell a 33-acre tract of timber in the Gourlay Creek Watershed for clear-cutting. The bid closed June 3 with no offers.

The city had planned to use the estimated $440,000 the timber sale would generate to postpone water rate increases, which have been on the table since 2009.

The city has also been looking for other ways to make up for the $440,000 shortfall. This year, four city employees will be retiring and none of their positions will be filled, saving the city $280,000, Hanken said. Two of the positions were initially proposed to remain within the 2013-2014 budget, but will no longer be filled in order to save money. Still, the city will need more money to pour into the water budget.

“We’re down to slim crews running water, sewer and public works,” said Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge. “There’s not much more water we can squeeze out of that turnip.”

The city has a list of water system projects that are long overdue, but has been unable to address them due to the deficit. The dams that feed water to the city are currently packed with sediment, leading city officials to wonder how water delivery will be affected during dry summer months.

Typically, the sediment behind the city’s dams is removed every two or three years depending on weather.

Currently it has been five years since the dams have been cleaned, said Darryl Sykes, the Miller Road Water Plant’s operator.

“Ive been here for 20 years and this is the first time I’ve ever seen it like this,” Sykes said. “Year after year it’s kind of a crap shoot.”

Hanken said deferred maintenance and debt services are the driving forces behind the proposed rate increases.

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