Sandy city staff propose new increases to utility costs
With the continuation of inflation and also the continued work on several city infrastructure projects, the city of Sandy is poised to implement its annual fee increase. City Manager Jordan Wheeler and finance director and deputy city manager Tyler Deems presented some proposed rate increases at the Monday, June 6 meeting of the Sandy City Council.
Among them were incremental changes to wastewater, water, stormwater, SandyNet, building, planning and records request fees.
"The City annually reviews and updates fees and charges to adjust for inflation for materials, operational expenses, and capital project funding," staff said in a report to council. "The council's direction over the last few years, with exception of the pause during COVID, is to adjust the fees on a more regular basis to avoid less frequent but larger rate increases."
The current master fee schedule can be found online.
As the city moves forward to rectify problems with inflow and infiltration in the existing wastewater system and plan for a new system to accommodate the community's growth, they are also planning for a 10% increase to wastewater fees. For the average single-family home, that would take their monthly bill from $23.70 to $26.07, an increase of 61 cents per 100 cubic feet of water.
The discussion around whether the city will continue to purchase treated Bull Run water from Portland is still underway, but as of June 6, city staff were projecting an 8% increase in water rates in 2022, followed by four years of 41% increases. This would potentially take the average single-family home's bill from $7.23 in 2021 to $30.86 in 2026, according to the rate model shared by staff. Commercial and industrial customers would be similarly impacted.
The stormwater fee is proposed to increase from $3 to $5 a month. According to the provided staff report, this "will allow for the building of a capital funds for future projects and operations (and) future rate increases (are) projected to work towards a financially sustainable utility." This increase would also mean a $116,000 increase in annual revenue for the city.
As the city grows and more people sign on for Sandy's unique city-operated internet service, SandyNet has some proposed cost increases of its own. On June 6, SandyNet director Greg Bewster brought a list of desired changes to council, including the following:
How Sandy bills compare
At this time, the average 7ccf (centum cubic feet) Sandy resident's utility bill — which includes charges for water, sewer, stormwater, SandyNet (if they're a customer) and the public safety fee — remains comparable to those seen in Tualatin with the average Tualatin customer paying $103.97 a month to their Sandy neighbor's $104.26. When compared on scale with a handful of nearby Oregon cities, including Lake Oswego at the high end with a bill of $162.57 a month, and Fairview at the low end with a bill of $83.66 a month, Sandy's current rates fall in the lower third on the graph, coming in higher than Fairview, Estacada, Troutdale, Happy Valley and Tualatin, but lower still than Lake Oswego, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Canby, Wilsonville, West Linn, Gresham and Gladstone. The proposed increases would move Sandy into the higher ranks on the graph, making it the sixth most expensive at $124.69 a month.
City staff have projected that in the 2022-2023 budget cycle, the bill of the average 8 ccf customer could increase from $146.21 per month in 2021-2022 to $169.64 per month.
From the planning and building department, the council heard even more increases proposed, mainly to the planning fees. Where a type II subdivision now costs an average of $6,069 in fees, the proposed increase would take it to $8,100. A type III is proposed to increase from $6,971 in fees to $10,420. According to the staff report, "this does not include other application reviews for items such as tree removal, FSH Overlay review, variances, etc."
Currently, Sandy's planning fees rank it as the cheapest when compared to neighboring cities, such as Estacada, Milwaukie, Lake Oswego, Happy Valley, Wilsonville and Oregon City. With the suggested raises, it is still depicted to be the least expensive in this comparison.
As staff wages increase, so must the cost of utilizing staff time for public records request, or so says the city. Staff are suggesting increasing the hourly rate related to records requests to "capture the true cost" of labor expended. These new rates include a $50-per-hour fee for requests requiring the work of administrative staff and an $80-per-hour fee for requests requiring the work of executive staff.
To be discussed
Yet to be proposed, but on the horizon are changes to SDC and public safety fee costs. Council will further discuss and ultimately vote on proposed increases at the next meeting on Tuesday, June 21. The public is welcome to attend city council meetings and meetings are accessible in-person and online via Zoom. For more information on the upcoming meeting, visit the city website.
In the June 6 meeting, Councilor Laurie Smallwood expressed concern about making increases as the country appears to be entering another recession.
"For a lot of people, we're getting into a world that's very scary," Smallwood said. "I want to make sure we're looking for other avenues of revenue. I want to make sure that as a governing body, we're making the best decisions."
As discussed for the past few years, the increases now being seen in Sandy are unprecedented because for years the city kept its rates the same. Now, with several projects in the works and a continuously growing city, the council and city staff have pointed out that increases are a must and will need to become regular and incremental.
"We're trying to be sensitive (when determining rates) to the fact that there are other increases," City Manager Jordan Wheeler said on June 6. "It's our turn to reinvest in these facilities to provide clean water and also treat our wastewater."
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