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Presentation to be given in mid-January on possible water utility rate increases for city water users

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - St. Helens Finance Director Matt Brown speaks with council members about water and utility rates for 2019 during a St. Helens City Council meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 2. Brown is expected to present different rate increases and what impact they might have on the citys budget at the next council work session on Jan. 16.The St. Helens City Council will resume discussions this month about the possibility of raising water utility rates — collectively to include water, sewer and storm water charges as they appear on a user's water bill — this year.

During a City Council meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 2, city staff and councilors spoke briefly about adjusting rates, a topic customarily addressed at the start of the new year.

Typically, new water utility rates are approved and implemented in January, but with a series of meetings, City Council retreats and the addition of a new council member, St. Helens Finance Director Matt Brown said he wanted to wait to hear the council discussion before drafting a formal rate change resolution.

During discussions Wednesday, Brown suggested a 3.5 percent increase based on an average of two different consumer price indices. Using an average water bill as an example, Brown estimated water bills would increase by roughly $5 monthly with the suggested rate change.

Council President Doug Morten said he favored having a more formal presentation to discuss how rate changes would affect the city and the potential for future projects and infrastructure improvements. Brown said he could assemble and present that information.

The idea behind adjusting water rates on an incremental basis annually is to adjust utility rates to match changes in the consumer price index. If the city adjusts rates gradually each year, large increases like 9 or 10 percent can be avoided, which has happened in the past, Brown explained.

In 2017, the city developed a utility rate master plan and, during the same year, the City Council agreed to use CPI and similar economic indicators to gradually adjust rates annually to avoid sudden spikes in water and utility billing rates.

"As long as we do slow, moderate increases, we shouldn't need to do large rate increases," Brown said.

Last year, the City Council passed a 3.22 percent rate increase.

A draft of proposed changes to the water utility rates, if adjusted by 3.5 percent, was available on the city's website in advance of Wednesday's discussion. A copy of the rate increases can also be found on the Spotlight's website, as well as an outline of some potential rate changes.

Brown is expected to give a presentation to the council at its next work session Wednesday, Jan. 16, which will be held at 1 p.m. in the City Council chambers.

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