After no increase in 2017, city water rates will increase by 3.22 percent in the new year

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Finance Director Matt Brown, center, spoke to the St. Helens City Council about an increase in water rates for 2018 during a council work session on Wednesday, Dec. 20. The council voted to approve a 3.22 increase in water, sewer and utility rates, an increase that falls in line with consumer price index indicators.  Water, sewer, storm drain and utility rates in St. Helens will increase slightly in the new year after remaining the same in 2017.

The St. Helens City Council voted Wednesday night, Dec. 20, to approve a 3.22 percent increase in rates for 2018, raising rates for utility services in the city after the city maintained the same rates from 2016 through the year.

St. Helens Finance Director Matt Brown said the rate increase falls in line with consumer price index markers for 2017. After a utility rate master plan was developed earlier this year, the City Council voted in August to use economic index factors to annually adjust water rates by using a weighted average of consumer price index adjustments to determine how much to increase rates annually.

In years prior, the city had dramatically adjusted water rates to compensate for declines in the economy and to help pay off loans for infrastructure repairs and other costs, including a 2013 rate change that increased fees 9 percent over two years.

In 2016, rates increased only 1.25 percent, falling well below the 2.25 percent inflation rates projected for the year. The City Council did not raise water rates at all this year.

Brown noted, however, that if the city gradually adjusts rates each year, the city can avoid high rate changes, which have historically been the norm.

In addition to the rate changes, the council approved a series of changes to the utility billing administrative rules that will also go into effect in the new year.

In mid-2016, the City Council voted to eliminate deposits on new accounts, but has since made a slight adjustment to the policy, Brown explained. Opening a new utility account does not require a deposit; however, if any account is assessed a late fee more than three times in one year, a deposit will be required to continue service.

A full application must be submitted to the city for approval before new accounts can be opened, and renters are required to get a signature from the property owner to start service.

During last week's City Council meeting, no public comments were made during deliberations about the rate increases.

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