Residents in St. Helens will soon see an increase in their utility bills.
That's because the St. Helens City Council, at their June 1 regular session, voted unanimously to approve proposed utility rate increases, which officially kick in July 16.
According to city spokesperson Crystal King, customers will first see this increase reflected on their August 2022 utility bill.
King said, "The average single-family-dwelling utility billing customer will see an increase of approximately $7.73. This is a combination of the fee increases to water, sewer and storm water fees."
King cited several reasons for the rate increases.
St. Helens, according to King, has not increased utility rates since 2019. She noted the 2019 increase was also below the consumer price index (CPI) and engineering index at the time.
"The cost to maintain and operate our water, sewer and stormwater systems have continued to increase each year, in the same way that people have seen the cost of groceries, gas, toiletries and other products increase each year," she said.
King said there are several critical infrastructure projects that the city government needs to complete in order to ensure the livability and safety of the community and to take a proactive approach to St. Helens' growth.
"Over the last year, the city updated its master plans for water, sewer and stormwater systems," King added. "The updates were long overdue. The new master plans examined infrastructure projects that the city has deferred for many years as a cost-saving measure and identified new projects that are necessary to meet the increasing demands of our growing community."
St. Helens officials say three critical sewer basin projects require upgrades and upsizing as soon as possible. The goal is to ensure that the sewer system can meet peak flow demands so that wastewater does not back up into homes during times of high usage.
"These three projects are approximately $14.4 million dollars to complete and must primarily be paid for with utility fees," King said.
Other specific projects that the rate increases will help cover include the yearly replacement cost of the city's water filtration facilities membrane filtering and Columbia Boulevard stormwater upgrades that are necessary for upcoming projects.
King said the stormwater project is estimated to cost between $2.8 million and $4.5 million.
She also noted that the public safety fee for the construction of a new police station is already being charged on utility bills.
"That fee was not part of the most recent utility fee increase proposal," King said.
At an earlier work session June 1, city councilors discussed the fee increases.
Councilor Patrick Birkle, while signaling a desire to vote for the utility increases, wanted to make sure St. Helens residents were able to learn about the rate increases.
"I think that waiting two weeks, and just out of an excess of providing residents an opportunity to express themselves if they so choose about it prior to our making a decision, would make me more comfortable," Birkle said, noting, however, "I am firmly committed to moving ahead with this."
Mayor Rick Scholl countered with the need to be proactive.
"We have it in front of us," Scholl said. "We have educated ourselves. We have had every opportunity to have the public here. If there was a lack of education around it, then I could understand, but we have educated ourselves about it. We know what the right thing to do is."
Scholl voiced strong support for the utility rate increase, noting the need to improve infrastructure.
"We have to," Scholl said. "People need water and reliable sewer that is not bubbling up in a major storm event. That's where we are at."
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